Getting the Feelings Out – Writing Advice from Guest Author Isabel Gillies
Wow do I not like writing about writing! I have been sitting here in front of this screen for a long time, and on and off for a week trying to figure out what I am going to say in this blog post about writing. So now I am giving in to a confessional and just putting it out there that writing or giving advice or shedding light on the process of writing freaks me out.
There are many reasons why I don’t feel great about banging on about how I write or how to write. A) I am untrained as a writer. No degrees hanging on my wall from Iowa or Columbia. The last good writing class I took was in high school. B) I am dyslexic, so as a kid I never dreamed I would be a writer, so I can’t say, “I always wanted to be a writer,” because it would be far from the truth. And C), my writing is definitely imperfect and I know that, so who am I to be an authority.
What I will say is that I strive to write from my heart. Yuck! Do you see how lofty and silly that sounds? I really don’t mean to sound holier than thou – I want to say, that in my case, I don’t think I am a technically beautiful writer, but what interests me is getting the feelings out in any way I can. I don’t spend hours or months finding the perfect word. I spell badly. I compose endless run-on sentences. I probably make huge mistakes because I don’t know the rules. But I am a writer — I love it, I think about it constantly and I write every day. When writing is going well for me, it’s almost like I am throwing up. I don’t know what I am doing until I am done. It’s thoughtless, and ideally free enough so that emotion comes out and on to the page. I can feel it in my body when I am writing well. It feels a lot like acting, or painting. It’s the same feeling as being on a roller coaster, or losing yourself in a song on the radio. It’s being in a zone. I’ve tried to explain this feeling to my husband and he said he thinks he used to feel the same way when he was rocking a math problem. It was like he was on auto-pilot and some other force was powering him through the steps, and he could feel, not know, but feel he was going to get the problem right. After I am in this zone however, I always have to go back and back and back to make what I have said clear and correct. Editing is very important and definitely doesn’t feel like being on a roller coaster.
I write in bed and I know that is a no-no. First of all it’s terrible for my back and posture, but really, doesn’t it just feel wrong to work in bed? Something’s very lazy sounding about it. I think ideally one is supposed to write standing up, or certainly sitting at a desk in a good, sturdy chair. I didn’t mean to write in bed. It started because one freezing day in mid-winter, I was working on Starry Night at a desk in our bedroom. I got so cold (to the point of distraction), I decided to get in bed to warm up, and that was that. I must have written four chapters that day. I am writing in bed at this very moment and if I had better internet reception I would take a selfie and post it with this.
Most would say don’t write if you don’t have anything to say, but doesn’t everyone have something to say? Hum.
Lots of times writing first thing in the morning is a great idea, but I don’t often get it because I have school aged kiddos. I don’t like writing after 4pm if I can help it, and I really can’t write in the night, because I am too sleepy. I have thought of good ideas for books or articles in the middle of the night, but have forgotten them by the morning. I probably should keep a pencil and pad on my night-side table, as so many smart people do.
Even though I hate to say this (because I used to be made very anxious by reading), I think reading and loving a book will help you with writing. But don’t sweat it if reading doesn’t come easily to you yet, it probably will one day if you stick with it. I didn’t like reading until I was in my twenties, and now I love it.
I hope the more I write, the better I’ll get at it. I don’t think I will ever spell well, but I might be able to become a better technical writer. Stephen King said if you are going to write you have to write every day and I believe that one hundred percent. The next time I write a novel I will definitely do it in another way. I learned a lot writing Starry Night and there are certain roads that I simply won’t go down again, and new ones I will try out. It will be a different process, it will probably be in bed, and I can’t wait to start.