Several weeks ago I reviewed the book Sidekicked by John David Anderson. Today, as part of his blog tour, John David Anderson stopped by Literacy Toolbox to share his hilarious thoughts on his writing process. Check out the Walden Pond Press Blog for other stops on the tour and be sure to sign up for the giveaway at the end of this post.
On the Complex Interrelationship Between Organic Literary Composition, Cinnamon Flavored Candies, and Hairballs OR How I Write
Writing is a process.
Personally I would like it better if it weren’t as involved. If it were sudden, like an explosion. Or something regurgitative: Wake up. Make some awful hairball-chucking sound, hack hack hack hu-RURRRK! And voila: freshly vomited novel. I would get a lot more done. Like cleaning up the real hairballs left by my real, non-novel-writing cat.
But writing’s not that simple. It’s more like constructing a roller coaster that you are never going to ride because by the time you are done planning, zoning, building, testing, demolishing, rebuilding, testing again, painting, licensing, and promoting the darn thing, you are sick of looking at it. You just hope other people go along for the ride. And that it doesn’t make them throw up either.
Of course every writer’s metaphor is different, as is their process. So here, starting from birth and condensed into about a thousand words, is mine.
Step 1: Get born. This is the grossest part, so we will skip the details.
Step 2: Spend formative years (say, the first thirty) reading thousands of books by authors infinitely more-talented than yourself. This will grant you the crucial realization that you will probably never be in Norton’s Anthology of Awesome Writerly Types and provide you with the proper perspective: A daily affirmation that you write, not to become rich and famous, but to afford replacement socks and entertain your six fans.
Step 3: Spend some additional time (say, five or six hours) reading books by people markedly less-talented than you. This will provide you with the prerequisite ego boost that will keep you going. (The caffeine will do the rest.)
Step 4: Experiment. Not with, like, dead bodies and stuff (though that would be cool), but with your chosen craft. Try poetry. Realize you suck at poetry. Try short stories. Realize that they don’t call three hundred page short stories “short stories”. Try contemporary adult literary fiction. Realize that’s too much to say at dinner parties (“I write mostly contemporary adult literary fiction, or CALF. What do you do?”). Instead decide to write kid’s books because they are a lot more fun and easier to say. Also while you are experimenting, try to find your voice. Mine is “Smart-alecky with just a hint of didacticism.”
Step 5: Spend precisely thirty seconds drawing free hand. This will be enough to convince you that you cannot do picture books. Go back to your three hundred page short stories.
Step 6: You are finally ready to begin writing (for real this time, not the stuff you were doing in Step 3. Step 3 is a phase. It’s like puberty, but with fewer zits), but you need an idea. Unfortunately you finished Step 1 already, so you know that every good idea has already been taken. You also realize that every good idea was then taken again. And again. And again. Repurposed and retrofitted, altered to tap into zeitgeists and marketing segments. Once you come to grips with the fact that there really only are a dozen good stories out there, you only need to figure out how you will give them your own spin. Choose “smart-alecky with a pinch of contemporary relevance.”
Step 7: Seek inspiration from the world around you. Realize that you will spend most of your life doing this. Use it to your advantage. When your wife catches you watching TV, browsing websites, reading comics, inspecting the fuzz between your toes, or sleeping in the middle of the backyard you were supposed to mow, tell her you are “seeking inspiration”. It will work the first two times.
Step 8: Gather fuel. To be perfectly honest (and PG 13) for many of our greatest authors this comes in the form of copious amounts of alcohol if not heavier substances. However, there are alternatives. I prefer Diet Coke, pretzel rods, and atomic fireballs, and yes, I have consumed all three simultaneously without my head exploding.
Step 9: Fire up the old desktop (nicknamed “Dinosaur”), open Word, and appreciate the blankness for a moment. A blank piece of paper or a white screen is almost religious in its implications. A holy sacrament. Just think of the possibilities! It could be anything! A sprawling historical romance! A sprawling postmodern revisionist fairy tale! A sprawling political satire told from the point of view of ink pens in the magical realist tradition! A book about cats!
Step 11: Pause after a couple of pages or so and think back to all the things you learned about writing in high school, namely the need for a plan or an outline. Consider the merits of having your plot mapped out, your characters sharply defined, your Fireballs pre-unwrapped for ease of mouth-pop-in-ability. Ruminate on how beautiful it would be to have the slightest freaking clue where this project of yours is headed. Then shrug your shoulders and continue to type with wild abandon and almost no sense of direction. For yours is an organic art. Growing rampant like the weeds in your unmowed yard.
Step 12: Get another Diet Coke. Briefly wonder how much phosphoric acid is good for a person.
Step 13: Argh! Pothole! Can’t think of a name for this new character. Call her “blah blah” and move on. You’ll think of something later.
Step 14: Roadblock! Can’t find the words to describe this town your protagonist stumbled upon. Write: “the village was blah blah blah” and move on.
Step 15: Forcefield! At a total loss for what Chapter Four should even be about. Write “blah…blah blah…blah blah blah blah.” The ellipses will let you know that there are actually several pages missing here. But that’s all right, because you are smokin’. No sense stopping now for something as minor as a chapter.
Step 16: Drink water because it’s better for you. Chase it with another Diet Coke. Think you should maybe build something cool out of Diet Coke cans, like a pyramid, or a bigger pyramid.
Step 17: Find the zone. Watch your own fingers tap dance on the keyboard as though they were independent organism with tiny little brains of their own, just clacking away. Whistle at yourself appreciatively as the word count in the bottom left of the screen shoots up, like so many quarters spilling out of a slot machine. You’ve written 3,000 words today!
Step 18: Take a moment to bask smugly in your productivity. Wipe your brow even though you work in a climate controlled environment and have been sitting in the same place for four hours and don’t actually have a drop of sweat on you. Think of how wonderful it is to be a writer. To have the privilege of just sitting here making stuff up for other people to read.
Step 19: Notice the word “blah” on your screen: the color of a minor character’s eyes that you think you might have mentioned before but need to double check. Now curious, do a Find and Replace on the word “Blah.” Realize that half of your 3,000 words are actually “blah”. No worries. It will give you something to do tomorrow.
Step 20: Recycle Diet Coke cans. Now you’ve saved the world as well. What a day. But it’s not over yet. There is still plenty of time to engage in a little number 7. Grab a book from number 2 and head out to the backyard. You still have thirty minutes before you have to pick up the kids from school and the muses of the hammock are calling to you.
About the Author
John David Anderson is the author of Sidekicked and Standard Hero Behavior. He is drinking Diet Coke even as he writes this and really likes to blah blah blah. You can find out more about him at www.johndavidanderson.org or on Facebook at JohnDavidAndersonAuthor.
Walden Pond Press is offering a SIGNED, HARDCOVER GIVEAWAY of Sidekicked to one lucky Literacy Toolbox reader! All you have to do is comment below – please tell me why you think you would like the book for a child in your life, or how you might use John David Anderson’s guest post on his writing process in your classroom. The contest period will run from July 16th until 11:59 p.m EST on July 23rd. US residents only, please. The giveaway recipient will be chosen randomly using random.org and contacted by email within 48 hours of the end of the contest.
Walden Pond Press is also running a Facebook giveaway until the end of the month called The Sidekicked Summer of Superheroes Sweepstakes. Giveaways include an e-reader of the winner’s choice, a selection of superhero-themed e-books and signed copies of Sidekicked.
Disclosure: All Amazon links are affiliate links and may result in my receiving a small commission. This is at no additional cost to you.