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Let's Panic: The Book!

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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain,
and Finally Turn You
into a Worthwhile
Human Being.

Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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At LET'S PANIC ABOUT BABIES, Eden Kennedy and I share our hard-won wisdom and tell you exactly what to think and feel and do, whether you're about to have a baby or already did and don't know what to do with it.

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« Once again, here's more rambling about stuff I'm doing that's not here | Main | Ladies and gentlemen: we have a book deal. »
Tuesday
Nov102009

Processing

So it turns out that I can write a book and also do other things, but writing a book plus anything else equals total disaster for the rest of my life. The last couple of weeks, I’ve been working on the new column for Redbook (the first one will appear in the January 2010 issue), so I neglected some other matters. Like remembering to eat, or talking to people. Also writing in this here blog.

And. And I just stared into space for about fifteen minutes while I tried to think of something else to write. Listen. I know you didn’t need to know that. I realize you are not reading this as I write. I thought I’d take you along for a minute on my mind journey. If it’s going to go blank for a bit, why shouldn’t you know? Don't you want to join me in my fugue state?

When I say I spent the last couple of weeks writing my Redbook column, what I mean is that I spent one week hiding under the duvet insisting that I have nothing worthwhile to say to anyone, and another week hiding under the duvet, emerging to tap out a few words, running around screaming that I’m a worthless hack, and then diving headfirst back under the duvet. You think I’m exaggerating, don’t you? I can see it on your face. All right, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, shut up.

I don’t know if writing is this way for anyone else, but when I’m faced with a deadline, the few days beforehand are torture. (And yet I could never get anything done without a deadline. And meeting a deadline is an unparalleled relief.) The only way I can get anything done is the following: I must 1) wear a hooded robe or sweater, hood up, and 2) put a blanket over my head, so as to create another hood over the hood, and if that’s not enough I 3) close my eyes while writing. Is that not utterly pathetic? I have to squirrel myself away in a cocoon of emotional comfort so that I can (sometimes tearfully) bang out the last few words I require to get the job done. But for whatever reason, this works for me.

I mentioned some of my bizarre habits to my Redbook editor (on whom I may have a burgeoning girl-crush—but I won’t admit to anything, except secretly when I whisper it in my pillow), and she seemed unfazed. She said brightly, “Well, that’s your process!”

So I am not insane. I have figured out my process. And you? Do you have one? Come on, admit it.

Reader Comments (94)

love it. love the hoods and the closed eyes. too funny.

not a professional writer, but have started and not finished writing and/or illustrating several books. process is:1. nagging feeling to work on books2. phase of "i don't care it sucked anyway"3. phase of "oh my god how did i ever let this get away from me, this beautiful piece of art.4. phase of i hate it, never working on itagain5. repeat. i will finish all of them one of these days. hopefully while this baby is still in my belly.

November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmie
Your method totally makes sense. When I was an undergrad (lit. major) the only way I ever finished a paper was by shutting out all the lights in my room, so only the glow of my computer screen was on. It's like I could only focus on my paper if I blacked out everything else around me. My college roomate actually did your hooded shirt thing. She's also tie the strings around the hood really tight so that it pretty much enclosed her head...ok, maybe that is pretty bizarre...whatever, it got the job done!!
November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJo
I wait until I have JUST enough time to write the thing, if I do NOTHING else, and then hunker down and do nothing else. Even eating becomes like fueling a machine; I'll bolt down anything put in front of me or that unwraps quickly. I sit on my bed with a bolster behind me, and all possible notes and references sources spread out in an arc in front of me. That way I can't get out to take a break w/o disturbing the arrangement. Doesn't totally eliminate pee breaks but it cuts them down. First draft is done on a yellow legal pad, second draft is on a different legal pad so I can look at the first one while editing. Third and later drafts happen on the computer.

I've done this for twenty years and the only variation is sometimes the bed is a couch.
November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDee
Oh, and if you talk to me while any of this is going on? Best of luck getting an answer. The standard instruction to my husband is "Pretend I'm not here," because essentially I'm not.
November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDee
A hood?! My God! Me too. Especially one with drawstrings. I pull them tight, tie a neat bow and suck on the ends in nervous frustration. Oh, and sometimes- a deadline is quickly approaching - I tap my feet.
November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDana
I'm a graphic designer, and I definitely have a process.

1. Work energetically because I have an idea that I'm really excited about.

2. Get stuck.

3. Surf mindlessly for hours.

4. Go back - realize how much I hate what I've done. REALLY hate it. Like, incredible amounts of self-loathing, oh my god, I suck, I should give up, I should not be doing this.

5. Surf some more.

6. Force myself to go back and tear everything apart.

7. Finally hit upon a solution, and fine tune.

I've been doing this for 15 years and the process is the same for every project! (Replace "surfing" with "watching tv" and "catalog shopping" during the days before I was online.)
November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnn
In college, I thought I was the only crazy person who worked like that, and then a friend confessed that she did too. She and her room-mate both, actually. They called the final stage of panic (the one wherein you actually do the whole thing in record time) "The Fear."Relatedly, I once wrote a 22-page research paper on the various French political parties and their interactions, sitting in exactly the same place at a cafe, in 14 hours. In French. To this day, I barely believe that this happened, as my memories of it are limited. But I have the paper, and I got an A.
November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCate
My process causes me a lot of stress. I cannot finish anything without a deadline. Nothing! I cannot complete things early and then have time for things like going outside and eating something healthy. Oh, that's another part of my process - I must eat salty and/or chocolaty deliciousness the ENTIRE time I am writing. Oh and caffeine - it flows down my throat like the waters flowing over Niagara Falls. And then I usually pass out in a sugary/caffeinated coma only to wake up and do it all again!
November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMelodie
For you fiction writers: www.nanowrimo.org.

Insane deadlines are the best for shutting up that "worthless hack" feeling. Trust me.
November 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterwonderer
Clean desk surface, earplugs so I can only hear myself breathing, a cup of tea, a glass of water, a bowl of popcorn, and a notebook with a pen so I can write down all the urgent things that occur to me as I'm trying to write. Things like "REMEMBER TO BUY ALMOND BUTTER!"
November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMaggie Mason
It's great that you've hit on a subject related to every single one of us. Whether we be food bloggers like myself, non-food bloggers like many other people or even professional writers such as yourself.Sometimes I can write reams and reams of creative prose while other times demand a deep immutable silence while I tap out a few words, then spend several minutes wondering if I've picked the RIGHT words.Sometimes I'll get stuck on a section so I'll go do the dishes, hoover the apartment, paint the cat. Basically everything OTHER than write until I get some flash of inspiration.

Whatever your process is, however you write, know that it's so right for you and the time and effort you put into everything you write really shines through.
November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSimply Yum
I'm a History & Government teacher and I write a blog. I don't know that I think of myself as a "writer" but I write a lot ---- pages and pages of lecture notes for lessons and then the nonsense for my blog.

And my "process": Read a lot and then time to think. For me, that time to think is the daily hour on the elliptical. Works every time.
November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStacy
I used to, for literally everything. I'm trying to break the habit of habits.
November 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermynext50.blogspot.com
Oh mine is barf out a terrible first draft in fits and starts, in excruciating pain. And then take a big long break. And then leap arabesquely toward revision, enjoying every second of revision. And then let it go and never read it again.
November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBeth
"La la la la, I can't hear you..." as the sound of a deadline whooshing past roars in my ears.

That's pretty much it.
November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDawn
Last minute. Last minute under a deadline and just tossing out drivel for pages upon pages until I hit on something that has merit and then I delete the whole thing and start over. It's EXHAUSTING. But it always works, miraculously.

(I like you, Alice Bradley.)
November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNat The Fat Rat
My process is minimizing the chaos. The things that MUST get done for my family to survive get done, and the rest can wait for a project day. I process things by putting on blinders
November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRenee
Thank you SO MUCH for this. Now I know that I'm not weird, I just have a process. And my process involves ice cream, crying, and massive helpings of self-doubt. Good times! At least I'm not the only one, right?
November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmber
Wow! Did you just get inside my brain? My process involves procrastinating, beating myself up for procrastinating, stressing out, not sleeping, eating and drinking too much, and then saying "that wasn't so bad" when it's over and asking myself why I procrastinate so much. Sigh.
November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChrista
I loved this post and all of the comments. It made me realize my desire to be a writer is a natural outcome of my personality - I've been a Class A procrastinator all my life - can only work under the extreme pressure of a deadline, and then only on the last day before it in most cases! I'm so glad to see I'm not alone!!
November 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMauigirl
I get this completely. Without the hooded sweatshirts, I have the same struggle. I will worry and worry about the pending deadline, and toil over what I should write about. Then, magically and sometimes in the middle of the night, I'll have a thought and get up and vomit out the assignment in minutes. I proof it later, but some of my best work is done like this. Craziness!
November 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSteph.
Huh. Double cocooning is a good idea. I might try that, though I tend to favor views, which are hard to come by in Valley suburbia. A view of the underside of my comforter? Worth a try...Looking forward to the Redbook piece!
November 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPB Rippey/sleepless mama
My process involves lots of very cold water, certain music that I am not ready to admit to on the background and periodic walks to clear my head and let my brain reorganize.

Also, "Don't you want to join me in my fugue state?" = my favorite line of the week anywhere.
November 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMeredith
I just wanted to say that I think you are a brilliant writer, and whatever process you use has worked. I have spent the last X (cannot admit... cause would seem like I have not worked at all for X days) days at work reading through your archives, (I am slow to find new blogs to read and relatively new to the blog world).
November 13, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterwhitney
I've determined that my ability to write is controlled by a wildly inspiring (and stingy bitch) fairy. I show up, I type, I delete, I loathe my existence, I check every internet website possible to learn about mortally important pop-culture things, I cut my nails, I clean a toilet, I type a few words, I groan despairingly at the ceiling, I curse the bitch fairy and her tardiness, and then as the deadline looms dangerously near... I get a flash of brilliance and write something that I read over and over with loving adoration. And I don't even feel narcissistic because I can't take credit. It's that stupid fairy.
November 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKK

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