The Writer's Process
Taken from May 29, 2017 issue of the New Yorker.
Hmm, what’s my process?Funny, I don’t think anyone’s ever asked me that before. I don’t really have a “process,” per se, just a simple routine that I meticulously follow every day like a disciplined genius robot.
I usually wake up around 5 or 5:05 a.m., and get out of bed immediately. I do not press snooze. I do not start scrolling through Twitter so that the brightness of my phone’s L.E.D. screen will force my eyes into awakeness, but then continue reading tweets for so long that my eyes adjust to the brightness and I get sleepy again.
I meditate first thing in the morning. I do this sitting down on a meditation pillow (which is not painful, because I have naturally good posture). I do not use a meditation app, because I am not a baby. I just set a timer to emit a gentle gong sound after an hour, and I empty my mind. When thoughts do arise, they are usually really smart thoughts about my writing, but I do not hold on to them in a panic, because I have enough faith in myself to know that they will return when it is time.
Then I run ten miles and make a smoothie. I don’t drink coffee, because that would probably just lead to hours of wondering if maybe I haven’t had enough coffee but being unwilling to drink more because I don’t want to get addicted and need more and more coffee every day just to be able to function. The smoothie usually has coconut oil in it—yum!
Finally, it’s time to write.
My desk is a clean, uncluttered expanse that I use solely for writing, and certainly not as a dumping ground for wedding invitations, gum wrappers, and grocery-store receipts that I’m afraid to throw away in case I need them for “tax purposes.” On the wall above my computer, I have taped up an index card with a quote from Kafka or Don DeLillo or some other cool writer, which inspires me anew each time I look at it. You’d think that I would become blind to it after a while, or that I might occasionally feel embarrassed by its pretentiousness when guests come over, but nope! It’s just constantly inspirational and not embarrassing.
I remain seated at my desk for the entirety of my writing session. (I do not attempt to convince myself that I could be just as productive if I were writing in bed, and that it would be kind of fun and “like college.”)
I don’t need to disable my Internet connection, because—honestly?—I’m not even tempted. I understand that social media does not hold the answers I seek, and that looking at it will only make me feel terrible. And, what’s more, my understanding of this fact translates seamlessly into my actual behavior.
I have a friendly relationship with the mysterious forces that govern my creative inspiration—my muses, if you will. When they visit me, a soft smile alights on my lips. “Hello, old friends,” I murmur fondly. My experience of writing is a giddy, pleasurable one, and does not feel like being trapped inside a cage that is on fire.
When I write, I let my characters speak through me—I am but a vessel for their words. I shut out all distractions and turn off my phone, because I definitely don’t worry that if I take too long to text people back they’ll decide they hate me and never text me again.
In the afternoon, I typically take a long walk. I do not listen to podcasts. Why would I? The music of the natural world is podcast enough. As you may have noticed, a running theme in my process is that I am not afraid to be alone with my thoughts. Not at all.
Of course, some days the muses may not visit me. When this occurs, I accept the situation with equanimity and give myself permission to write a clumsy first draft and vigorously edit it later. This approach is possible because I understand that my intrinsic self-worth is separate from my talent and my productivity, and because I know that I am deserving of love even if my writing is not very good. This gives me the freedom to take risks, which, in turn, actually makes my writing very good. Funny, right?
If I am truly stuck, I read a book. I do not watch a twenty-two-minute sitcom as a “break” from the immense stress of waking up and sitting down at a desk. Not even if there is a new episode on Hulu of a show I don’t particularly like but have seen every previous episode of.
Anyway, I guess that’s my process. It’s all about repetition, really—doing the same thing every single day. No one else in the world cares at all, yet I still do it! Because I, a human being, have the self-control to maintain this routine in a complete vacuum of social interaction or any positive reinforcement.
Oh, and I almost forgot—I go to bed super early.