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How we write: The phases of the writer

By May 26, 2010June 2nd, 2010How To

When I tell someone that I’m a writer, I watch their minds float away behind their eyes. They’re painting a picture – the likes of a Polaroid, after it’s been shaken and blown on.

The writer perches at the edge of her seat. He taps furiously away at his keyboard. There’s a glass of wine or whiskey on the desk. And Billie Holiday, or something otherwise mournful, plays in the background.

It’s all very romantic. But what these people don’t see is our torture. They can’t grasp our capacity for pain. Nor the phases – the bipolar, schizophrenic – phases that we live through. Each month, each week, each day, or when we’re really lucky, each hour.

It feeds us, mind you…because if our minds were still, our fingers would stop.

And that would suck.

Here are some of the writerly phases I’ve been able to nail down:

  • Early Morning Syndrome. This hits on those days when you wake up with the sun. You can’t believe you have the entire day before you to write. You fantasize about the number of items you’ll cross off your list. You quiver at the thought of running out of pen ink! And then. You’ve been futzing around for 4 hours, blinded by all the time you have—and though it’s only 11 am, you’re in a total panic because you’ve wasted the entire morning.
  • This is too easy. It does happen. When it all just works, one project to the next and you think, someone is paying me for this? But…it’s so simple and so much fun! How is that possible? Someone recently told me that it all comes down to physics…or maybe it was calculus?
  • But first I’ll eat the contents of my refrigerator. Which is why my fridge has very little in it. Still, I’ve been known to eat a tahini, ketchup, pickle and carrot sandwich. Because damn it, I will not start writing until that cold, white box in my kitchen is empty.
  • The second wind. Usually it’s around 9pm. You haven’t accomplished much all day, you have to get up early the next morning, you’re about to turn off your computer. When suddenly, from out of absolutely nowhere, you are writing your ass off. You can’t stop. You can’t BE stopped. You have more energy than an eight year old boy.
  • Where is everybody? Perhaps eased by the abundance of beeps, bings and gongs that my phone and my computer give me on a minute by minute basis, I still get the feeling sometimes that I’m all alone. And that I don’t want to be. I need to see, be seen, touch, connect. I simply can’t sit in this studio, at my desk, by myself for another second.
  • I suck. Alisa Bowman did a phenomenal job writing this one up a few days ago. Because we all climb into that cave and think about how terrible we are. It’s not a good place to be. I’m convinced there are soul-sucking leeches in that hole. The antidote, of course, is a batline to people that will tell you unequivocally that you do not suck. Alisa suggests you keep all of the good emails in a special folder for reading at times like this.
  • I rock. The world is my McDonald’s. And I am its Happy Meal. This phase is great—we all need ego to write. But it’s also dangerous—lest we think we are too good for our work and just take, take, take until there is simply nothing left for us.
  • Dreaming. I’ve been known to get lost in a daydream for a good hour or so. Always shocked by the clock and befuddled that I’m sitting here at my desk. Really was so deep into it that I was convinced I was somewhere else and lost track of time and place.
  • Plugged in. Pure creative output. Nothing but net.

I do not claim to capture every phase in this post—the phases of creativity frown on captivity. They’ll sooner morph into something new than be pinned to a page where they can be sussed out, possibly even bottled and sold. For more than just our sweat and tears, that is.

What did I forget? What are your phases?

Addendum: I usually put in a disclosure that this isn’t just for writers, but all creative types. I was just informed by the loverly Traeger di Pietro (painter extraordinaire) that this is indeed applicable to the painterly fellowship.

Image credit: SivamDesigns

Join the discussion 35 Comments

  • Julie Daley says:

    What a relief. I am normal. At least in a abnormal writerly sort of way… Torture it is. Heaven it is. No matter. I have to do it.
    .-= Julie Daley´s last blog ..Listening into Liberation =-.

  • Dian Reid says:

    oh, i can relate to all of these! then there’s the close relative of “i suck” — “this is crap”. the phase where you roll along thinking everything is going well only to find that it’s crap, it’s all crap and it’s back to the writing board… “but first i’ll eat the contents of my refrigerator.”
    .-= Dian Reid´s last blog ..750 Words to Being Yourself =-.

  • Ron Miller says:

    I’m surprised by how many of those I’ve experienced, practically all of them.

    Great post.

    .-= Ron Miller´s last blog ..Competitors Dismiss Apple At Their Own Peril =-.

  • jeanne says:

    this is a better picture of me than anything i’ve ever come away with from the professional photographer’s studio.
    .-= jeanne´s last blog ..SELECTING A NEW CARdiologist =-.

  • Have you been peeking in my window? Is that why my dog keeps barking when I think no one is there? Wonderful.

  • Tammi Kibler says:

    All of these, so true. I was up with the sun this morning and what have I done?

    I’ve found another guru to join for $1 a month so he can tell me the secret that makes my fingers tips ooze words. And if I pay him more he will assure me I don’t suck.

    I guess I should be relieved that inspiration will kick in around dusk.

    I live on a yo-yo and I wish I knew who was yanking the string.
    .-= Tammi Kibler´s last blog ..Call To Action: Are You Aiming for the Right Target? =-.

  • jesse says:

    yes, yes, yes, yes to all of them.

    One more… the inability to focus on anything, eating, sweeping, talking to kids, or answering the phone until I spill what’s exploding in my mind out on to the keyboard.

    Then… the sense of relief, the peace, the calm, the lighter step.

    This lasts about 4 hours, before the next wave of ideas.

    • Julie Roads says:

      Jesse – I tried to capture that with the last one ‘Plugged In’ – but you clearly added some key components!!!

  • Andi says:

    There are two I think – (1) when the words just words just won’t come and (2) when you have all the words flowing through your mind and you can’t get to a laptop, notebook or napkin to write it down – THAT one happens to me ALL the time!
    .-= Andi´s last blog ..(Not quite) Wordless Wednesday #62 =-.

  • Alisa Bowman says:

    Phenomenal post–and not even remotely because you linked to me. I was all sucked in and hanging on every word long before I saw my name. Loved the “contents of the fridge” one. So been there. These are all so real and so true.
    .-= Alisa Bowman´s last blog ..How to Get a Spouse to Fall Back in Love with You =-.

  • Julie Roads says:

    My dear old dad just informed me that I meant ‘futzing’ not ‘putzing’. Because ‘putz’ is another name for a dude’s joystick (well! that’s what Lady GaGa calls it!).

    I take full and total responsibility for that Freudian slip.

  • Gary Smailes says:

    I like the re-read where you think ‘crap – I don’t remember writing this, it is actually good!’
    .-= Gary Smailes´s last blog ..What’s The Point Of A Book Proposal =-.

  • It maybe related to ‘second wind” but how about the phase where since you decided you really won’t be able to write anymore right now, so it is a good time to drive for the errand or take a shower and then all the words start flowing like water from the shower head… and you don’t have anything to write with!
    .-= Steve Sherlock´s last blog ..the sixth sense =-.

  • juliana says:

    Love, love, love this. I’m a victim of the fridge thing, too!

    I will probably link to it from my blog if that’s ok, because it relates directly with something I wanted to post today! :)
    .-= juliana´s last blog ..Locked In With Your Fears =-.

  • Carly says:

    I always seem to be stuck here:

    Plugged Up: When you’re inspired, you want to write, you HAVE to write to maintain your sanity, and yet… You either have no ideas, too many ideas to pick one, or are so bored by all the ideas past and present that you DO have that you watch TV instead.
    .-= Carly´s last blog ..Secret Soulmates =-.

  • Thank you, Julie! You bring levity to this picture. Great post.

  • My “in the zone” is the same as your “plugged in.” And my “zoning out” is your “dreaming”!

  • JulesCarey says:

    You really nailed those on the head. I have had every one of those. I suddenly don’t feel so alone. *sniffle*
    .-= JulesCarey´s last blog ..Review: The Book Thief =-.

  • Julie Velez says:

    There’s the, “Oh, I know I should be editing (prose or photos, take your pick), but I MUST read all the 240 million items in my Google reader/facebook/twitter feed RIGHT NOW in case I missed anything that might inspire me or keep me from making a huge mistake” moments.

    Sigh. Such drama. Procrastination by imagined urgency.

    Do you get those moments, too?

  • Julie Roads says:

    Okay, the number of JULIEs (or derivatives thereof) here is mind-blowing, and I must say: a major coup.

    It is a well-known fact that there are few things in this world more delightful and enchanting than a Julie.

    I’m just sayin’…

  • Delanie says:

    Great post!
    Makes all the “craziness” in the life of a writer that much more “clearer”… or maybe a touch more tolerable… *sigh* maybe.
    .-= Delanie´s last blog ..A Poem About Writing =-.

  • Elizabeth says:

    An extension of Julie Velez’s addition:

    The Endless Research Loop
    That’s the procrastination phase of “I-must-do-endless-research-about-this-small-point-involved-in-my-piece-in-case-I’ve-missed-something-important-about-this-topic-and-five-hours-later-I’m-still-researching.”

  • Love this post, Julie! I would add “It’s time to do laundry” to the list, filed under “Excuses, writers’ block” :-). My house never gets so clean as when I’m on deadline. Working on that… Glad others can relate.

  • I’m with Julie Daley — delighted to know I’m normal! And of course, blogging only adds to my general ability to whittle away the writing time to nil.

    Great article!

    .-= Adventures in Children’s Publishing´s last blog ..Self-Publishing Q & A: Your Questions =-.

  • Regypsy says:

    I so relate to all of the above. Pffffffffff ;o)

  • Stefan says:

    My worst is the “I’ll I just edit that bit I wrote last time before I start.” Then I spend all my time editing, rewriting and changing what I had already wrote then realising I preferred it before and now have no time to write anything new.

  • Todd Moody says:

    It’s funny how universal all these are for everyone that writes. Great post! I would also add:
    This Scene is not working – how it puts you in a bad mood when you can’t get a scene to work
    and the opposite of that
    This scene made my day – where you get a scene to work out beautifully and the day is suddenly much better. =)

  • Sheila Moore says:

    Julie V. hit my biggest problem – I spend so much time reading, networking, blogging, commenting, answering emails, tweeting, facebook (very little), researching, and planning ideas, that the time left working specifically on my novel seems to come last and least.

    I have already made mental goals just this week on what I have to start cutting out of my schedule in order to start finish this book this year.

    The other thing I completely identified with is the night time second wind. My imagination and creative juices kick into overdrive at about 9 or 10 at night.

    I related to everything else, too. We writers are a interesting group, aren’t we? At least we have each other. Hope to run into everyone again, soon. Thanks for the awesome post. I love reading other bloggers with a sense of humor like mine.

  • Thanks for sharing, I sure can relate to some of those as well !

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