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.