Behind my lousy writing process

It’s Monday night as of this writing, and the week is already hell. Normally I’d be too exhausted at the end of a long day to write anything, but I’m feeling restless tonight. I’m having more of these restless nights than usual, too. Maybe there’s some intense dissatisfaction with my life boiling under the surface (well, that’s not a “maybe”, and it’s barely under the surface if I’m writing about it.)

The only healthy way I’ve found to deal with this dissatisfaction isn’t to actually address it properly but to keep writing more so that I can distract myself from my constant impending doom. So here’s a look behind the curtain at my terrible amateurish writing process! I’m not writing this post to instruct or educate, because I honestly don’t recommend that anyone follow this as a guide. It works for me (sort of) but might not work for anyone else.

Step 1: Fill up with coffee

Caffeine is a drug, and I’m undoubtedly addicted to it. You might say that’s unhealthy, and you might be right, but I don’t care. My heart is still fine, and even if it isn’t, the world seems well on its way to ending so it probably doesn’t matter very much.

To be more serious, I do keep my daily intake to a few cups of coffee, though they are strong ones. I do my best not to overindulge, anyway. Energy drinks are out — no interest in pouring that stuff into my body, whatever it is. And in any case, coffee is among the cheapest options for your fix if you know what to buy. I’m not a gourmet: I buy giant jars of Café Bustelo instant coffee, the least bad instant I’ve found, and I drink that. Six dollars for ten to fourteen days of coffee — not too bad, is it? True coffee enthusiasts might turn their noses up but I have a taste for that bitter black espresso style and this is the easiest way to get it. (And don’t bother with Starbucks’ instant brand. Seven dollars for six one-cup packets of coffee? It’s a terrible deal. Starbucks doesn’t even brew good coffee; you just go there to meet friends and get extravagant sugary drinks with whipped cream.)

I haven’t reviewed Super Cub yet, but it’s an anime that appreciates good coffee better than I can. Though I would drink good coffee if I had the time to bother. If I get rich I’ll buy one of those French presses and spend time picking the right beans and all that stuff.

As for the drink’s effects, I read an old translated poem from a Sufi mystic, one of the guys who first made coffee popular in the 15th century before it was exported from the Middle East to Europe. I don’t remember who wrote it (Rumi? I don’t even remember if he’s the right time period) but it pretty much praised the drink for energizing and opening up the mind, and that’s how I feel about it too. Here’s a relatively mild drug that promotes creativity and energy — that’s made for me. Live your totally clean life if that works for you, but I still need at least a little vice. Otherwise what’s the fucking point? And more importantly, I can’t write without it.

2) Write a post

Just write. No editing in this initial stage — it’s just a flow of words, though I usually have a general idea of what I want to say and where I want to end up, especially when it comes to my reviews. For those more structured sorts of posts, I make a sort of outline in my head. Other bloggers might prefer to write an actual outline with notes and will probably come up with better results than I do.

But sometimes I don’t even have any idea where I’m going with a post and it’s a near-total stream of consciousness. Like this post. As I write this sentence, I’m still coming up with what the hell I want to write in the next, like building a railroad as the train rolls along the tracks. At least there won’t be an actual derailment if I fuck up, which does happen — I have quite a few garbage drafts sitting around that I just can’t part with because I think I might be able to repurpose them someday.

3) Make one single quick, rough edit before posting

“Editing” for me consists of a read through for two purposes: 1) to make sure I didn’t make any obvious typos or grammatical errors (ignoring the formal errors I actually do make but ignore because I prefer to break those rules for whatever reason) and 2) to make sure what I wrote basically makes sense and that it’s more or less what I wanted to express.

This part of the process is part of what separates my amateur bullshit from professional work. I’ve done professional work before that’s been assessed and cut apart by editors, but I was always paid to put up with that. Here, I simply want to express myself as I like, and I’m happy with any way I can get that done so I can keep existing for another week without losing my mind completely.

Yeah, I get that

4) Edit the post after I’ve posted it because I missed stupid typos or actually said something ridiculous-sounding that I should clarify

Yeah, this happens a lot, partly because of how rough that third step is that I described above. That’s also part of why I can’t recommend my method of writing to anyone who doesn’t want to look like an idiot. I already know I’m one and have accepted that fact, so it’s fine for me. If I’m making a substantive edit, though, I will mark it clearly as an edit in the text for transparency’s sake. Not that anyone probably cares, but I do, and that’s enough.

And that’s it. I get the feeling my second step is similar to the last step from that “How to Draw an Owl” meme you’ve probably seen around — it doesn’t help for me to tell you to draw the rest of the fucking owl if you don’t know how to go about it. That’s part of why I quit teaching (and also because of how horribly teachers are treated in this country.)

So until next time! I can’t say what or when “next time” will be, but I’m shifting over from anime a bit to visual novels, which I have a whole pile of, and a few shorter ones on the top of that stack to get through finally. I’ve been meaning to return to the still underappreciated VN medium. See you then.

19 thoughts on “Behind my lousy writing process

  1. Spoiler alert: that’s more or less how I write posts once the time actually comes to put fingers to keyboard. My process pre-writing is a little weird. I conceptualise posts in my head, while I do the dishes, vacuum, clean the bathroom or when I’m out on walks. Depending on the topic, this takes anywhere from fifteen minutes (such as for anime) to months (if I want to say something controversial). I then jot down the points on a notepad, and then string the ideas into something coherent, and then I go through the same process you do. In some cases, I get the screenshots first so I have something to guide my topics.

    As an aside, while I love the taste of a good coffee, it’s a rare treat for me because I’m very sensitive to its effects. On the other hand, I’m a tea connoisseur and have reached a point where I can tell a decent tea from an inexpensive one!

    • I get what you mean about the conceptualization. That probably should have been “step 0” on my list. I get my best ideas either in the bathroom, weirdly enough, and specifically in the shower — there’s something about the hot water that must have an effect. But doing daily routine sort of stuff definitely helps that process. Screenshots also help. I can hardly go without them, especially since I’ve gotten so used to writing captions as parts of my posts. The last post I made felt a bit weird for that reason (but if there’s a way to caption YouTube videos I’d love to hear it, because I don’t know about it.)

      That’s rough. I know coffee can affect people differently. But tea is a nice alternative. I don’t drink much tea, but I like a lot of what I’ve had beyond the usual Lipton teabag stuff you can find everywhere.

  2. Fellow coffee lover~ I used to drink instant but now I drink the stuff they have at my workplace, or I use my AeroPress at home. The coffee at my workplace is unfortunately terrible but I’ll take it. I hope they change the beans soon.

    It’s always interesting reading about the writing process. I have a bad habit of not taking enough time to thoroughly edit my work. I tend to catch mistakes and typos afterward. 😛 So, similar to you hahaha.

    • Sorry to hear about your coffee troubles at work. Having it for free makes it easier to drink, but there’s a limit — back when I went to the courthouse most mornings the stuff there tasted like melted tires, just awful. Like they just wanted to punish all of us.

      I’m happy to hear other writers here can relate!

  3. Haha, the final part about the ad-hoc editing phases rings so true. That’s why I avoid rereading my posts, because I _always_ find something I want to edit. I just get to ‘good enough’ and let things lie where they may. Anyway, thanks for this post!

  4. Feel like the just sit and write part is probably true for a lot of bloggers that last any amount of time. Hell, even for me that’s pretty common. The big difference is that I will spend 3 to 5 hours slowly, and meticulously editting something before publishing it. For me that’s often where the magic happens. Writing is more about getting the ideas out of my head where editing is the actual process of turning them into something worth reading.

    Still neat to read someone else’s process and know that we’re all just trying out best out here.

    • I get that. Your way makes a lot more sense than mine. I did go through that kind of editing process for the “deep reads” posts I used to write — they were so long that without actual work on structure they’d be complete messes.

      The kind of writing I really have to work on editing and sculpting like that is my fiction. Even after several drafts it still sucks, but it’s amazing how even when I think I’m done with a story, I can return to it and see 20% or more of the crap I’ve written shouldn’t even be there.

  5. I drink an enormous of tea. But I do most of my blog writing in the morning. Although I always miss typos, that’s kind of a given when there’s no one around to proofread. So no need to get annoyed about that, I reckons.

    • I usually write in the morning too, and on weekends when work isn’t weighing on me. And yeah, I don’t have a proofreader either. It’s inevitable that you’ll miss a few mistakes, if even typos can slip into published material in print.

  6. I loved this post. I have been so busy but when I first read it I wanted to comment on the coffee. Of course, your advice on “just writing” is fantastic. That’s what it boils down to in the end like a Nike commercial. Great advice!

    But I could relate to the coffee part. Caffeine’ing up is truly part of the writing process (I’m pretty sure that’s my problem right now – too much caffeine). I had written a blog about coffee probably three or four years ago. You’ve got me thinking of writing about one of my great loves once again. Thanks.

    • Thanks, and I’m happy to hear you can relate, though maybe not on the being hooked on caffeine part — but then there are far worse things to be hooked on! At least coffee has some real benefits and drives my productivity.

      Though I’ve been in a strangely almost manic state lately with my pace of writing, which doesn’t have to do at all with caffeine intake, so not sure about that. I wish I could be on like this all day every day, but maybe that would get too tiring.

  7. Pingback: Coffee, Whiskey, Racism, Stereotypes, and the Internet – the unlit cigarette

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