The Writing Process

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At a literary event recently I heard someone say:  ‘The thing to do is put the idea in your subconscious.  Your brain will do the work.’

That’s the thing. It takes time for our experience to make its way through our consciousness.  For example, it is hard to write about a journey while you are still in the midst of the adventure.  We have no distance from what is happening to us.  The only things we seem to be able to say are ‘having a great time’, ‘the weather is good’, ‘wish you were here’.  It is also hard to write about a place we just moved to, we haven’t absorbed it yet.  We don’t really know where we are, even if we can walk to the train station without losing our way.  We haven’t experienced three scorching summers in this country or seen the dolphins migrating south along the  coast in the winter.

“Maybe away from Paris I could write about Paris as in Paris I could write about Michigan.  I did not know it was too early for that because I did not know Paris well enough.” – Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast  (New York:  Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1964).

So we take in experience, but we need to let things make their way through our consciousness for a while and be absorbed by our whole selves.  We are bower birds, collecting experience, and from the tThrown away apple skins, outer lettuce layers, tea leaves, and chicken bones of our minds come our ideas for stories and poems and songs.  But this does not come any time soon.  It takes a very long time (three to ten years in the case of literary fiction).  We need to keep picking through these scraps until some of the thoughts together form a pattern or can be organised around a central theme, something  we can shape into a narrative.  We mine our hidden thoughts for ideas.  But the ideas need time to percolate:  to slowly filter through.

Rumi, the thirteenth-century Sufi poet, summed up what could be the creative process when he wrote ‘The Guest House’:

This being human is a guest house.

Each morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honourably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing and invite

them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

Jalaluddin Rumi, in The Essential Rumi,

Translated by Coleman Barks, 1999

Our work is to keep rummaging through the rubbish bins of our minds, exercising the writing muscle, in readiness to answer that knock at the door when it comes.

I hope these thoughts on the writing process are helpful.   Do you have any tips you would add? Let me know in the comments and please share this post with a friend if you enjoyed it. 


10 thoughts on “The Writing Process

      1. I’m quite affected by it all at the moment, and I felt compelled to write my words, and hopefully my little foray might help. Thank you Libby for your kind words.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I can very well relate to this. Sometimes, I get a word, phrase or a statement that strucks in the middle of a mundane task such as washing dishes. I need at once to write it down because they can disappear from my mind all of a sudden. I used to ignore it but had regrets along the way why I didnt pay attention to it. Thank you for reminding me through this post that we are all a work in progress when it comes to writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. good to see you back on WP. yes, writing an idea down at once is a good thing to do. we think we’ll remember, but we don’t. glad the post was a timely reminder about our process as writers.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Libby, this is a fabulous post and a real treat to read. It has me reflecting on writing and you are right that ‘we need to let things make their way through our consciousness for a while and be absorbed by our whole selves’. Both quotes are wonderful but the Rumi one is superlative and one I am saving for future reference. Hope your writing is going well. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. it’s such a thrill when you read one of my posts Annika. love your feedback. so pleased the post inspired you to reflect on the writing process. yes, the Rumi quote is fantastic. my writing is going well. thanks for asking. i’m flying to Adelaide tomorrow for launch of an anthology and to read one of my poems that is included. my new book, ‘The Usual Story’ will be released in three weeks time. so it’s all go here in my office. hope your writing is going well too. xx

      Liked by 1 person

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