On the Process–Just Write

In 2005, while working on a novel, I, like Steinbeck, journaled about the process; this piece is derived and inspired by that entry. Also, I must say that for years I have, with consistent huffs of disgust and quite sufficient tirades, rejected off hand any piece of writing the begins “It was,” “Those were,” “This is,” and the like. That being said:

It is an effort for me to keep in check my Editor Self while allowing my Writer Self the freedom needed to put pen to page (or fingers to keyboard) in a manner worthy of the pleasure derived from a completed product. My Organizational Self argues to stick with the outline of the next five chapters as he has spent hours charting the nuances of characterization and conflict eagerly awaiting the unsuspecting protagonists—for reference see the “Little did he know” scene in the movie Stranger Than Fiction. Or to return to the main topic of allowing the muse to roam, perhaps see the “Punch the keys, damn you” in Finding Forester or the “I just needed to put everything else aside and write” from Wonderboys. More about these movies in a moment, but what they show is a need for us, those who choose (present tense to denote on ongoing decision) the writerly life, to press forward with our Creative Selves rather than getting caught up in the mundane or the unimportant. Covey addresses the general principle of putting “First things first” in the once popular Seven Habits books. The most important part of being a writer is to write.

About these writer movies: We have tons because writers write and they write about what they know, which is (dare I say it again?) writing. Of writer movies, there are two types. First come movies in which the writer is identified by label as in When Harry Met Sally and the best friend says to Billy Crystal, “That’s particularly harsh and I know this because I’m a writer.” Others of this ilk include Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Big Chill, and Sideways. All good movies, but no one is actually writing. On the other hand some writer movies involve, or at least illustrate, the writing process, and in doing so they invariably portray as many different methods of writing as writers. Among this type are those three mentioned in the previous paragraph as well as Love Actually and the comedies Her Alibi and Alex and Emma. Of Wonderboys I must recommend Michael Chabon’s novel, though I’ve gotten much pleasure from the movie as well.

Therefore, whether you wear certain clothes, sit in a certain place, dictate, type, use a Ticonderoga No. 2 pencil, or splash it down with a leaky Bic ballpoint on the loose McDonald’s napkin from the floorboard of your 1987 Chevrolet Pickup, you, that is to say, we just need to write. Steinbeck made a conscious attempt to ignore the calls for another Grapes of Wrath and focused on the process, which for him was the fun part of writing. For me, it is finishing.



  1. This has been on my mind a lot lately, the “just write” mantra. It came up at the last writers group meeting I attended. I find we all make excuses, bargains with ourselves about when to start, hammer out and finish. The harsh reality that someone actually had the nerve to voice to a table full of dreamers is that if you don’t writer, you’ll never be a writer. Writing no matter is probably the one thing all successful writers have in common.

  2. russellsnow · · Reply

    tru dat

    1. Hey Russell, Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  3. Shawna · · Reply

    Have you seen Paper Man? That’s a funny “writer” movie.

    1. I have not, but I will look it up. I think I only mentioned some of the movies dealing with novelists; however, sub-genres of writer movies focus on journalists, speechwriters, playwrights, etc. I think The Big Chill was the first I noticed that a writer was portrayed–Jeff Goldbloom’s character.

      Thanks for the comments. If any others have writer movies to suggest, feel free to add them, and perhaps we can post an exhaustive list at some point.

  4. I cannot just write … I do haiku. And with haiku … well, I do “just write.” But it is better I think to “un-write.” I like your blog, Yousei sent me here.

    1. I understand. Prose and poetry are the second cousins of the writing world; while they meet up from time to time, the sources are often far apart. Unwritng–I like the concept–would take place for me as a rewrite (or rethinking) prior to the editing process, which could comes days, months, or (in some instances) years after the initial writing. And the two haiku in my portfolio do not allow me to speak substantively on that particular genre. Great observation, Raven, he writes as words continue to spew. Thanks.

  5. Reblogged this on Shiteki Na Usagi and commented:
    I’ve been thinking about this very subject lately. Since I’m preparing for surgery this week, I’ll let my friend’s thoughts fill this space. Hope to be back by the end of next week.

    1. Sweet – thank you!

  6. Hello Yousei. If we don’t ‘write’ then we are not writing. Sometimes we use other wrting to evade serious efforts that haunt us. Starting on what haunts us is perhaps the hardest part. Once the addiction sets in, we’re set to write until the words are exhausted.
    Now how did your novel turn out?

    1. Lol. It happens, those magical rabbit holes. As far as evasion, I find if there is something really important to do, I find something else to do instead. If its cleaning house, you can bet I’ll be writing. I think that’s a pretty good trade, but my husband is not convinced. I’m sure he’d be much happier if I had some writing deadlines approaching because I’m certain every scrap of laundry would be done.

  7. Oops! LOL how did I wind up ‘here’ ???? Through the looking glass indeed! LOL.

    1. Ha – got one! 🙂

  8. aloha unfettered-mind. or… that is… blancaster99. i too have arrived via Yousei.

    i like to write but come from a visual arts mentality. writer stuff confuses me. most of the time.
    on another page i find similarities between writer artists and visual art artists intrigue me. in order to be a painter i have to “just paint”. and paint and paint and paint. or create etc.

    i like the way you select post topics – regarding your blog. similarities again. off-chaining on.

    aloha – rick

    1. i once (for a few years) tried my hand at painting, developing some little skill. However, my writing suffered and when I tried to fix the problem, I failed to paint and draw. My creative bucket has very little room.

  9. writers block is a myth we use to cover our laziness….there is stuff to write about all around us….write anyway is def a mantra of mine…on days i dont feel like it…i write anyway…on days i ____ fill int he blank…i write anyway…how else do you call yourself a writer…well unless you are researching to write….but write anyway…

    1. Hey Brian, Wonderboys, which I mention above has a humorous take on writers’ block that I think you might give you a laugh or two. “Is all of that single-spaced?”

  10. Steinbeck made a conscious attempt to ignore the calls for another Grapes of Wrath and focused on the process, which for him was the fun part of writing……

    i love this part. i have many unedited works, but it does not concern me.
    it challeges my idenity as a writer though..

    1. I agree, Marty. We each have strengths and weaknesses in molding our writing processes. I also tend to like the writing part better, but as you imply, the other is also necessary at some point. My weakest section (in the division of labor in my head) is submitting for publication. Not, oddly, the rejections but the actual sending off to strangers. I hate it.

  11. I like to say I don’t have writer’s block; I have writer’s clog: too much to write, not enough time. It all gets stuck in my brain and gums up the works.

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, because I haven’t been writing a lot lately. I’ve been reading more than ever (which really is saying something), and that usually get me writing again. Not so much this time.

    My problem is – and always has been – getting started. Once I can get that first sentence down, I can usually get writing and keep writing. It’s just getting that first sentence down that kills me.

    Good thoughts, Bill.

    1. When we were in a writing group together, I remember that we had accountability partners, people we called–suddenly reminds me of a 12-step sponsor–and who called us to see how the process was going. “What have you written today?” “What’s the latest word count on your novel?” “If you’re stuck, how do you write through it?” We asked these kinds of questions.

      About the clog: I once heard William Vollmann speak, and he said he deals with the same kinds of issues by have several documents open at once (a dozen or more), and, as he hits a wall in one story, he switches what he is writing to another document. I tried this and was unsuccessful but found an advantage to having more than one project active at a time. As I’m sure you know (because we have discussed it) but will add for the benefit of others, each of us must fiend what works in our own writing.

      I’m going to step out on a limb and ask if you would send me your next first line. I would love to see where you start. Sorry to go on, and thanks for stopping in.

  12. My goodness. You writers deal with the same questions as any artist does. Good post. I paint and have found that there is no substitution for painting, the act of. As I learn composition and drawing and all the different techniques of the trade, I stash them in my supply cart and pull them out when I need them. The guidelines become my tools and, if I edited everything I painted, there would be no flow and the style and the freedom of it all would not exist. Good post!

    1. Good point. I’ve heard the “you must know the rules before you can break them” philosophy, but at some point another clichéic (if I may) expression that I heard at an Amway meeting comes to mind: “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly . . . until you can get it right.” At some level we must be Jedi warriors, doing rather than trying.

      Thanks for stopping in.

  13. This is good advice, of course. Writers write, so they should write and stop wringing their hands about the process. To me, however, writing is more of a discipline and a craft than an art. I can sit down and write and epic poem and keep at it in spite of wind storms that gather dust into the sky and hurtle the howling of dust in wind toward the heavens and keep going even though the sun is shining outside, and the day is so glorious computers and pens and all writing paraphernalia should be banned. Others see writing differently. They see it as an art that is tied up somehow with the angst of living in their century and too many feel the eyes of the masses on their every word. I can understand that. I am married to a marvelous artist and poet, but I still come back to your advice that I too have given to generations of students: Just write. Sit down, put a pen to paper or let your fingers do the walking and write a Shakespearean sonnet or a short story and let it sing you alive into your universe.

  14. I love your response. I’m not one hundred percent certain that inspiration is not part of the mix. Though I have been convinced for years that if I do the work, inspiration will come, writing, for me, is a combination of art and craft, of inspiration and skill.

    I have moments when the words flow better than I ever remember, and the ease of writing almost–I will not admit to more–makes weep with joy. However, if I waited only for those moments, I would write once year . . . maybe.

    Thanks for joining the conversation. I look forward to reading more from you on your blog.

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