The Process

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The posts are fewer and further between this month. Don’t worry. It’s all good. I’ve had my head down in the notes, charts, and multiple rough drafts as I try to close out the first book sometime before the end of December.

That’s my latest and most reasonable deadline. Thing is, life and teaching have tripped me up in this, the busiest month of the year for me.

It’s been write-edit-draft, write-edit-draft. A repetitive and sometimes irritating process, but it works. It is hard for me to push back against a routine that has proven itself reliable to me for years, but I’m not a patient person.

Did I mention I’m teaching three writing classes too? I toil with my writing projects alongside my students, and I share my writing angst. That gives some of them pause; but there are those students (particularly in the evening classes) who complain and curse me under their caffeine- and sometimes beer-scented breaths about my detailed feedback on their rough drafts, and the ongoing draft process. It never ends, they say. We just want it done, they say.

I get it. But all I can do is shake my head at them, and say:

“I curse it too. But one day, you’ll thank the process. Trust me.”


One of the keys to sticking with Emmett’s biography (now in its third year) is to enjoy the process.

What’s not to enjoy? I’ve made great friends, discovered new family connections; I’ve become a more thorough researcher.

Like my students, I’m impatient. Writing is mentally, emotionally, sometimes physically eviscerating. There are days when I just want to be done with the damn thing.

Three years, you know?

My 77-year-old dad kicked cancer’s ass in three years, and I’m still diddling around this book. What’s up with that? Right?

 

When I first started his project, I thought about six months would be enough time to find out everything I could about Emmett, then I could devote about six month to the manuscript.

The problem with that assumption was my attitude and ignorance. I’ve done research for years, but this was the first time I attempted another human being’s story. Sure, I can tell you anything about training and education, and wrap it in about a year.

But another human being’s story? How could I be so ignorant, and think I could sum up the facts and spit out the manuscript that way, you know, like a bullet-point list or something?

Writing-as-process. Over time, as you sit with the data, and do deep background work (such as, reading about how alcoholism was diagnosed and treated 100 years ago), I understand the man so much more than in the first two years. None of this process can be forced. That’s hard to convey to my students when we only have an eight-week or 16-week term. They’re under deadline pressure. I am too, although mine has been mostly self-imposed.

When I look at my notes from the first year, I notice a commonality: I was trying to force the research and the writing, and trying to force Emmett’s story along. What I needed to do was to let go, and live the discovery and writing process.

In the margins of my notes is this note to my higher power:

“Help.”

Funny thing. When I let go, and surrendered the process, the chapters started to come together; fall into place.

The book is coming together. There is light. It is getting done. Mostly I just have to stay out of my own way.


Before I close, I saw this quote yesterday from one of my favorite writers (and fellow friend of Bill Wilson’s) Anne Lamott:

“I’ve heard that if it’s my will, things get better first, and then harder. If it’s God’s will, it gets harder first, and then better.”

I tried enforcing my will on this writing/research process, and it just got harder and harder. But when I decided to accept and trust the process (which I attribute to my higher power), it has gotten better.

I’ll be back up for air in a few days. I really do have some interesting finds from the research that I’ll share.

 

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