the process of writing


if I have a clean desk it can only mean one thing: i’m avoiding a big deadline.

there’s something about the concept of writing about writing… it helps to demystify the muse. when writers and artists share their creative process, we allow ourselves to embrace the reality (from behind the scenes) that creative journeys are often scattered with problems and not always as smooth as they appear from the outside.

the truth is: i need bigger pages. a faster pen. longer lines.

i’m remembering an interview with jack kerouac where he mentioned the need for uncut pages. he typed with fury onto a scroll. rolled it up and turned it into a book. i’m tempted to hijack river’s art paper and roll it down our hallway. lay on my belly and spill my guts, just to inspect my insides. to smudge my wrists with ink. the blood of words. truth in bad penmanship.

but i resist. i am hungry with no appetite. i tread water with no focus. just listening to my own rapid breath. just going through the motions. i overlook the words that are there. i sense them near, and i push them aside like bothersome gnats dancing around my head.

i go through phases where i forget how to see the small things. i claim excuses like life is too big. i get angry. i get sad. i wallow. (all in resistance. in fear.) for to pick up the pen means revealing the bare skin of honesty.

how does one write of life? 78,051 words. 308 pages of double spaced, times new roman, 12pt font. the printer runs out of ink around page 212. it sputters out lost lines and faded words, just like my pen today. how do you keep your feet on the ground and your eyes on the horizon? how do you maintain foward motion while looking backwards? how do you find the focal points without getting lost? leave a trail marker for yourself. drop crumbs. tie a rope to your waist before entering the cave. let your friends know where you are venturing and when to expect you back. set a timer for when they should form a search and rescue on your sorry ass.

life is not all sadness, it is full of overwhelming beauty as well. the two go hand in hand, yin and yang. my pen writes from these truths, these words are like wounds. oozing into itchy sores like the poison ivy that spreads down my neck into my elbows. it consumes me. my hard truth is that writing is not always enjoyable. it’s an addiction. a craving. a realization of something gone missing that leaves me somewhat lopsided.

and so i postpone the inevitable. for me, it’s a form of self-torture. this exercise in not writing. i resist myself and i don’t know why. the hardest part of anything is simply beginning.

oh. writing.

this thing i do. this thing that is work or play or release. this thing that consumes me, pushes me around. this thing that builds up to point of overflow, then pours from my head leaving me to lay in the wet spot of my own self. this thing i do. always this thing i do.

i should be writing. i’m thinking of writing. does that count for something? i’m laying out the map of memories. plotting my course, gathering supplies with me under both arms. i’m running towards the light. i’m just a little scared of the adventure, of where it’ll take me.


i was asked to share my writing process, through this series that has made it way across the landscape of this blogging world. I tend to shy away from participating in things like this but the timing seemed to provide this as a good practice for me, an exercise in examination. so, thank you, Meghan, for thinking of me.

what am I working on?

i’m always working on a variety of things. the magazine world works well ahead of season, so i often find myself cramming in thoughts/articles/tips on winter activities during my summer break. to be a freelance writer is to be fluid. freelancers are able to occupy a space within our head where we create our own world, no matter the season. (we also are always in search of the next gig, always always working ahead.) i write for work and i write for pleasure. with my freelance work, i typically always have deadlines for articles or essays for print and publication, atleast monthly it seems (the more work the better!) last week i met my deadline for the Autumn issue of Taproot Magazine, a creative nonfiction piece. and more currently, this week (today), i’m finishing up a feature article for DP Magazine that will run in the September How-To issue. and always – the elephant in the room  (the shadow that follows me) is what i’m always chipping away at little by little. it’s a personal piece of creative nonfiction, i’m not sure what it was born to be yet but it’s something i dig into when time allows and when moods are strong. it’s book-length… this thing. these words. my mothers story. and yet i don’t have an ending for it. and so it sits on my hard drive and taunts me over time.

how does my work/writing differ from others in my genre?

does it? does my writing differ from others? on a good day i’d say that my work is my own, and that i’ve written my whole life to discover my own voice. i tangle it between lines of prose and optical illusions of reality and that truth makes me happy. on bad days, i wonder how i’d ever get an agent to give me a second look because there’s just so much good writing out there and the world is so darn big.

why do I write what I do?

i write because i can’t not write. i write because i have always written (even poorly, especially poorly at the very beginning) and i always will write (sometimes eloquently, often publishable, and still sometimes poorly on bad days).  i write because it consumes me and spits me out and beats me down and fulfills me like nothing else. i write because it’s the only way for me to decipher my own thoughts and putting pen to paper is consistently the right way to quiet the buzzing of my mind.

how does my writing process work?

there are different steps in the process, depending on what i’m working on. typically, my own personal writing comes about as the result of a trigger (listening to music, sharing a conversation, driving in the car) and i’ll need to pick up a pen to expand on a thought i had as a result from one of these triggers. this is me working through my own issues or stories that come up during the day. i wish i had a routine or good habit of sitting down to write every day, i know how helpful that would be (and maybe one day i will be disciplined enough to follow through) but for now personal writing is more of a purge.

when i’m working on an essay or article for print or publication i have a slightly different approach. usually i’m working off a prompt or specific subject that needs to be covered with a certain amount of images to be included and a specific word count as well. this is the box i work within. i find the juxtaposition of this somewhat comforting. having parameters means i can provide exactly what the editors are asking (while in my personal writing i am more loose and free to wander and roam). with work, i allow myself time and space to muse on the topic. i toss it around in my mind while i do laundry or work in the garden. my work happens in the space between breakfast and shower, or between red lights. the first step of my process is always allowing and giving myself permission for space to doodle and dream. this usually involves a bit of research and note taking. from there, i get in the car and drive. that’s how i sort out the pieces, the paragraphs, the words that often come out scrambled and need to be organized in outline. typically i will work with pen and paper until i have a rough rough draft. from there it’s typed and edited. i print. i grab a pen and mark up my page, rearrange, organize, add additional thoughts. then i print again. i do this process about four times (print. edit. print. edit) until i have a final draft that is sent off to publications just in time for me to begin the process anew with a different subject and season.

it’s a consistent cycle. a circular way of thought and way of being. it’s writing. it had no beginning and sees no end, for as long as i can remember i have been writing. putting pen to loose leaf paper and tying pages together with yarn. i find a strange comfort in this piece of me that will always be present in my life.

now that I’ve shown you mine, will you show me yours? what kind of writer are you? journal keeper – list maker – story weaver – truth teller? I’d love to know. and I’m happy to pass this series on to Jenna, in the word cellar.

(photo credit: Vivienne McMaster)
Jenna McGuiggan is a writer, editor, teacher, and storyteller who lives in the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania. She received her MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Among other things, she is currently working on a collection of linked essays about being found, getting lost, and the longing for home in all of its many forms. Visit Jenna online in The Word Cellar, where she writes about everything from navigating the rough and tumble writing life to venturing into the rough and tumble world of roller derby.