My self-esteem got a major boost when I read this great article in the Wall Street Journal and realized that my writing process is virtually identical to those used by great and famous authors! I want to share it with you because I don't believe in keeping helpful information to myself.
Inspiration. Like Orhan Pamuk, I realize that it can strike anywhere. I’m spontaneous as a motherfucker which means that I don’t need post-its or journals or the back of catalogues because the faucet of genius runs through the sieve of my brain, which is locked up tighter than a steel drum made out of mesh. In fact, I see Pamuk’s process and raise him one better: I also free-wheel with plot and story structure. Because it takes daring and bravado to dump out a sack of rice and then put it back together in the shape of Venus de Milo.
I identify more with Michael Ondaatje’s grasp of plot, which he says comes to him as “a glimpse of a small situation.” Based simply on this, I declare myself the better writer. I don’t just go small. I go infinitesimal. A small situation: son goes potty. Pint-sized: I wipe his butt. A small situation: feeding baby dinner. Under the microscope: I’m the Bette Midler of Food Coercion Entertainment. Good writing isn’t just about the small moments. It’s about the mundane shit that compose the mundane moments of a really exciting life.
While it’s true that I give the illusion of words pouring forth like Richard Powers, who lies in bed all day reciting to the voice-recognition software on his laptop, in reality the words sputter forth like a teenager learning to drive stick on an 1984 Honda Accord. Haltingly, with too much gas and too much braking and then too much gas and the sound of an engine being completely abused because THAT’s how it’s fucking done. Approximately five words appear at 42 minute intervals depending on who’s in school, what’s on TV, who’s napping. In Australia, I believe this is called “surface mining.”
I would like to declare here and now that I eschew research. Apparently, Hilary Mantel spent five years researching and writing her novel “Wolf Hall” and all she got for it was something called the Booker Prize. Meanwhile, Kazuo Ishiguro spends two years researching his books and one year writing them. A process that has really paid off for him – anyone ever heard of “Remains of the Day?” Exactly. He compiles something called ‘flow charts,’ which is what I used to conceive my first son. But it’s not like my preparation is any less obsessive – like any good athlete, there’s adrenaline, a series of pre-game maneuvers, knuckle-cracking, shoulder-rolls, caffeine intake, a quick slap of the “publish” button, and of course, my post-game spell-check courtesy of my father. My gut is my research. Sometimes my gut says “club sammy.” Sometimes my gut says “Wikipedia that bitch.”
I think all of us awesome and talented writers can agree: it’s about creating the voice. Which works really well for me because I have so many to work with: two tiny, whiny voices, a hungry male voice, a self-doubt voice, a tired voice, an asshole voice, a zombie voice, a British-accented voice, an Indian-accented voice, and quite frequently a voter polling voice on my answering machine. You put that shit together and you’ve got a New York Times bestseller. Nicholson Baker, a bearded, sloppy-looking, professorial dude, apparently had to work really hard “to get the feeling of being sloppy.” Baker and I actually have a lot in common, beginning and ending with the fact that we both write in “dreamlike” states. All of this confirms what I’ve always thought: that I’m one step ahead of the game.
With regards to first sentences and last sentences, the really well-paid authors get hung up on them, leading me to believe that my spontaneity is really getting in the way of my big paycheck. My buddy, Señor Pamuk, “often rewrites the first line of his novels 50 or 100 times,” which is totally Rain Man-ish. I do a lot of things 50 or 100 times but they either involve Pampers or strained vocal cords. And then there’s good old John Irving, who writes his last sentence first. I have nothing to say about this except it reminds me of when I was twelve and practiced writing my future children’s names in a loose-leaf notebook.
Lastly, I’d like to impart the importance of feng shui upon my creativity. One of my favorite writers talks about her home office, which for me is like Virginia Woolf’s “A Room Of One’s Own,” except that I have many, many rooms with many, many people. I should be so lucky as Junot Diaz, whose words come to him while sitting on the edge of his bathtub. Is that how you escape the Wi-Fi, Junot? Because the Wi and his brother Fi follow me everywhere, including the bathroom, where it is far too crammed for words to fit. Here’s how my feng shui works: I pile my bills, receipts, old photos, a two-tier fruit basket, some vitamins, sunscreen, and voila! Or over in the living room, pile some trucks, some more trucks, some plastic bugs, and a Fisher Price cash register – word heaven! Which, you know, is where words go to die. But my home office isn’t just limited to my home! My home office is the world. In fact, I’m looking into available flights to Peru at this very moment.
Some authors bristle when asked how they write, the ungenerous sons-of-bitches. But not me. I’m a giver. A sharer. Everyone thinks writing is so solitary, a lonely venture with you against the page and I feel like Britney Spears in “Me Against the Music,” because she had no idea what everyone was talking about either.
But here’s what I do know. I know there’s at least one misspelled word in this manifesto.