Process should be the most important part of any artistic endeavor because creativity needs surprise to thrive. One cannot be surprised if they are too rigid in the creation process. As a result, I believe a writer should leave intentionality and structure and all of that behind until enough sculptural material is generated to truly shape something: It is through editing that the essay or story is truly created. I write across myriad genres and formats, from the personal essay to the script, and I don’t start off by thinking (for example), “Ok, now it’s time to write a radio show.” My process is what ultimately reveals the form a given work will take.
Whenever I write, I start with a fresh legal notepad and two or three number-two pencils, which I keep perfectly sharpened throughout. I don’t give myself any prompts or criteria besides a time limit—usually an hour a day. I’ve never had writer’s block or lacked material, and I attribute this to the lack of constraints. I will generate new material for a week before even typing anything up.
The time of day I write can be as early as 5am or as late as 10pm. I cannot write, or do much of anything, between the hours of 2pm to 4pm—inevitably my sluggish time of day. I like to experiment by writing in different positions or environments. Sometimes I’ll write standing up, but you can also find me laying on my bed. I’m a people watcher, but I can’t work when things are too loud or crowded. But I won’t write or look at screens by the time midnight rolls around because I’m trying to decompress.
Throughout any given day I’ll be recording notes or sentences on my iPhone using the Voice Memos and Bear apps. I also keep a sketchbook and a journal with me, and write in those daily. Once a week I transcribe the audio notes and recopy what I’ve jotted down in my notebooks, sketchpads, or random sheets of paper into my free-writing legal pads.
About twice a month I will type up everything I’ve written. This pattern isn’t arbitrary; it’s when I’ve accumulated enough raw material and realize that to write any more I’d become overwhelmed with all the material. When I type up my work, it’s not in a standard way. I’ll set my Word document to landscape, create columns, and change the font. In this way, material I am already slightly familiar with becomes new again. This is a technique I learned from my thesis advisor at Columbia College’s MFA program, Dr. Jenny Boully.
As I type everything up, I do slight edits—clear up random thoughts into sentences and discard anything truly bad–half-formed thoughts or obvious clichés come to mind. Finally, I’ll place this document beside a blank document with a standard layout and font, and retype it.
Utilizing this process, I can come up with drafts for two or three pieces concurrently. I also become aware of thematic concerns or recurring references to people or places—all the things that have preoccupied my mind in the preceding weeks. If all these concerns can be stitched together into one longer draft, fine. If not, they can each be shorter discrete drafts.
Only after this am I able to truly start editing and crafting the material into a draft. Editing, for me, is a drastic process. It is about radical, even violent, revision. I end up killing some seventy-percent of my darlings by determining what material is doing no work. But this is fine because as one of my mentors, Aleksandar Hemon, is fond of saying, “That stuff isn’t writing; it’s typing.”
Only after all this do I have a working draft, and that brings me to a point where most other people seem to start from! It’s what works for me, though, and spending so much time on process truly gives me the foundation I need. Any writer one speaks with is bound to have a different methodology, but it’s important to try many different one out to find the right fit. Figuring out what has become my process took a good two years of math – adding and subtracting elements I experimented with along the way. I wish you the best in discovering your process!
Andrew Gregory Krzak is a Nonfiction MFA candidate at Columbia College Chicago. He is the producer of The Don’t Call Me Sweetheart! Show on WLPN, 105.5fm, Chicago. In addition to writing, he is fond of directing plays, illustrating magazine covers and children’s books, and playing accordion.