Taking Off the Top of My Head

June 14, 2008

***The title of this post, by the way, refers to an activity I used to use when I taught: Every so often, I would set up the overhead projector and simply write in front of my students. That way they’d see what changes I made as I wrote and understand how I developed ideas. I wanted them to realize that, even for those of us who use writing to earn their bread, it’s a process…***

I write because…

Some days the plot bunnies won’t let me sleep. There really should be a twelve step program. I’ll wake up in the night with ideas jostling for position, and the only way to exorcise them is to get them out of my head and into a Word document.

I write because…

Writing doesn’t come out of a vacuum, and there’s something compelling about being able to add to the discussion begun by generations past. To write well, you have to read good writing, and there are enough noteworthy examples to keep me inspired for several lifetimes.

I write because…

It’s how I come to an understanding with myself. I can’t count the times that I’ve been shocked by the words pouring out from me. “So /that’s/ what I’ve been thinking…” Those who know me well know that I tend to push my stress aside until it overwhelms me; writing then becomes both escape mechanism and catharsis.

I write because…

I’m an English major. If you don’t write and publish, they take away shiny the diploma and throw your thesis into the shredder. *looks around nervously* While I exaggerate, an innate love of language in all of its permutations does come with the territory.

I write because…

As I told my students over and over again, writing is a skill as well as a gift. The only way to become a better writer is to (now don’t tell anyone) WRITE. There are weeks of agony, where it seems like the Muse is taking a permanent holiday, but there are also those all-too-brief moments of shining inspiration that keep me returning to my laptop again and again. See Philip Syndey’s first sonnet in “Astrophel and Stella” for a writer’s process.


I have to organize my ideas first. If I sketch out a rough outline to get me from introduction to conclusion, all I have to do is fill in the blanks. This includes, for articles or more academic pieces, doing my research before I even begin composing. In fact, I even pull out all the quotes I’m going to use, typing them out in order.

If I write fiction, you can believe I have the characters already developed in my mind. That’s not to say that they never take me in directions I never imagined, but at least I know who I’m traveling with.

Poetry’s the same way…as you’ve probably guessed, more formal compositions appeal to me (see the original sonnets I’ve included on this blog). Ideas come first, then I worry about getting them onto the page.

That Being Said…
I take my pen (or laptop) firmly in hand, and just drip my ideas onto the page. The hardest part for me is getting the little editor who lives in my brain to stop griping at me long enough to let me write. Fortunately, I’ve found I can usually bribe him to leave me alone by giving him a few dangling participles to devour. Once the rough version is complete in all it’s dubious glory, I allow him to hack away at it to his heart’s content.

I metamorphosed into a writer during my Senior year of High School, thanks to my AP English teacher. She was a believer in timed writing and made us write without ceasing, gradually increasing the amount of time. Human beings are physical as well as mental and spiritual creatures, and just /doing/ a thing will allow the mind to catch up eventually. Even if I do sometimes have to type “there is nothing to write…” twenty times over until, finally, there is something to write.

Place matters, too. Though ideas can strike at any time, being disciplined about where and when I write has helped me more than I can say.

They (Whoever “They” Are)

…say to write what you know. I say that you can always learn more :). Experience and research add depth to writing. Though I couldn’t tell you much about Philip Massenger today, there was a time when I made myself an expert. Part of what makes bad writing bad is that it’s not believable.

Speaking of which, I really ought to go tend to some of those plot bunnies, as they’re becoming rather restless.


One comment

  1. awesome. ahhh I love MCR heaps. I bought a hoodie in england …its all grey now and worn out. Come on http://tropaadet.dk/liaharrell7959408190

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