Sunrise—Sunset—The Writing Process by Janine M. Donoho

Okay, we skipped the whole writing thing for my first blog. Before we slipped into that relationship, I figured you might want to know me better. Now that you’re more relaxed with me, let me address one of the questions newbie writers often ask. They want to know about ‘process’: that series of actions, changes, or functions that bring about desired results. In my case, this means completed fiction or nonfiction.

This may come as no surprise, but my raison d’etre equates with writing. Yes, admittedly my keenness for the sublime also includes durable family ties, wild bouts of dance, brilliant sight hounds, sun-drenched garden time, and extreme dark chocolate. Oh, and I thrive on the occasional cool mysteries that manifest in northern lights and the like. At the bones, though, the art and act of writing awaken me each morning. What happens after I crawl out of bed becomes my process. Need I tell you of the infinite states of mind this encompasses? However, given the option, I go for maximum joy.

As you know, our first introduction to life’s passions arrives in many forms. The intuitive connections of bow-to-strings, butt-to-saddle, or finger-to-trigger elicit entire lifespans of compelling behavioral choices. Thus, pen-to-paper might be the first visceral act that connects each of us to our inner writer. Of course, that may come years after hearing characters’ voices in our heads or unreeling scenes during long rambles through woods or streetscapes. Who needs medication when you can write?

Let’s begin with a quick survey. How do you put words to paper? Sir Arthur C. Clark swore by his Remington Noiseless Portable, upon which he wrote his first published essay. Joan Didion’s Royal KMM gave her early works voice. Former critique partner and all-around luminous woman, Susan Wiggs relies upon first drafts on legal pads with peacock ink, then finishes with Dragon NaturallySpeak. Most of my writer friends lean toward computers sporting well-behaved software.

Despite my own marked preference for journaling on blank sheets with superb pens, it took a personal computer to truly set me free. No more worries about retyping a page or–gasp–correcting multiple carbon copies. Instead, Commodore 64 allowed me to write an entire novel in six weeks, despite working in test engineering full time while practicing the flawed arts of mommy- and wifehood. In spite of fanatical saving, minor program glitches also gobbled whole chapters. While that novel will never see the light of day, it served magnificently as my apprenticeship in the skill of novel writing. What it bestowed upon me was true process. This entails putting my butt in the chair every day, then writing with blazing speed, internal editor disengaged. After all, there’s always the edit cycle to fix any problems.

Other than handwritten journals, which I regularly shred, my software preference originally ran toward Corel WordPerfect, then to Microsoft Word as more editors tended toward the latter. However, I admit to an abhorrence of programs that profess to write stories for me–pesky systems that excoriate writers to follow their yellow brick road to fame and fortune. After all, who’s the writer here? Even with Word, the nagging editorial functions have been disabled, only reengaged during final draft as a way to find problems I’m too steeped in story to see. Quite simply, I want to give my best voice to those stories ricocheting around my head.

Your physical process may be different. You may need to write your entire story longhand, then speak it into a speech recognition program. Or perhaps you still love your typewriter. Or maybe, like one well-known, deceased author and member of the British Royals, you eat chocolate bonbons with a feather boa wrapped around your neck as your assistant takes dictation. Yum, bonbons…

Other quirky routines work, also. For short stories, a scented candle or incense in keeping with theme can help. When journaling or writing essays, I prefer Yo-Yo Ma’s renditions of Bach. Go figure. Then Putumayo introduced me to CELTIC VOICES‘ Mary McLaughlin, whose Sealwoman/Yundah transported me into the setting of SOUNDINGS. This worked even though my mythic basis proved different than hers.

A pashmina shawl, brought back from Turkey and draped along the back support of my writing chair, serves many purposes: emotional comfort through pleasing texture, color and memory along with physical warmth. The view from my writing room offers a view of the Cascade Mountains across Okanogan Valley. Favorite art by Amy Brown, Rusty Haydon, Jody Bergsma and unknown papyrus artists from Egypt graces my walls. Windstone figurines by M. Pena focus tired eyes on horizontal surfaces unencumbered by office machines. Applied fung shui keeps the energy flowing. Shelves of books line one wall and a closet. Oh, and mornings have proven to be my most productive times; the earlier, the better. It’s quiet in the Donoho household then. My hounds curl on their beds to watch me write. Sometimes their breathing matches mine.

A favorite part of my process, walking meditation, shrank from year-round to three months a year when we moved to these highlands. You don’t wander the Okanogan wilds without packing heat and remaining vigilant. Cougar and wolf and bear–oh, my! Also, we live in open range. When faced with beef-on-the-hoof, my coursing hounds need firm redirection. Furthermore, the snows come in early November and remain through May along my favored hiking routes. Cross-country skiing tempts me every winter until once again my cantankerous knees refuse to let me turn, slow down or stop. Yes, this proves a bit limiting at 3000 feet where paths lead up–or down. Therefore, I switched to indoor equipment to supplement regular dance sessions. It’s harder to get into the meditative zone on an elliptical, recumbent bike or treadmill, but worth sticking with the plan. Mobility definitely beats the alternatives.

What emphatically has not worked for me? Life in a very old fifth-wheel with two hounds, two young cats, and a newly retired husband. This failed miserably. However, you may find such a setting to be ideal. That’s what processes are, finally: particular courses of action intended to achieve results. In my case, that means maximum creativity with outcomes of a novel, short stories, essays, choreographies, costumes, enhanced landscapes…you see where I’m going? Now I want you to go there, too.

Your task, should you choose to accept it–cue MISSION IMPOSSIBLE music–is to explore what frees your truest and most creative self. Whatever revs your engines, blows back your hair or gets you out of bed each morning, be true to that. Never spit in the eye of your Muse–and always thank her for the gifts she bears.

Happy writing!

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Soundings, Water Elemental

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