The Writing Process: an essay by MFA student Maxwell Jaffe

“Write drunk. Edit sober.” Hemingway said this, apparently, according to a t-shirt I saw once. I decided to try it, in one of my many attempts to find a writing process. Maybe my sobriety was the problem all along. So I drank. I wrote. I drank some more. I wrote again. I fell asleep. The next day, when I opened the previous night’s document to complete step two of Hemingway’s process, there was barely any writing to edit at all - a paragraph at most, the majority of which was made up of non-sequential sentences griping about the taste of tequila.

 

So my Hemingway experiment was a resounding failure. I was back at square one: void of a writing process or any idea about how to get one. I googled my favorite writers, read their Wikipedia pages for the umpteenth time, looked for clues in their various quotes, read an infographic about the sleep habits of various writers and how it affected their productivity. All of this only solidified what was already glaringly and immediately obvious, and repeated back to me the same lesson that I had learned over and over again every time I tried to copy someone else's writing process: everyone is different.   

But that’s what’s so intriguing about the writing process. It’s enigmatic and ethereal and individual. It’s part and parcel to the finished product but uniquely fitted to each writer, free of a “correct” form or rigid structure, like a batting stance to a baseball player or an artist’s signature. No one knows why a process works or where it comes from, but it certainly has an affect on the finished product, and that mystery is very seductive. The writing process provides a window into creativity, while still being obscure enough to provide no answers or conclusions. It sits on the line between subconscious and conscious, and that blurring is a beautiful thing. It’s not a coincidence that countless interviewers have asked writers to describe their process.  

I, myself, still do not have a writing process. I try a myriad of different approaches and always dislike what I write and always wish that I would have written more. And, in these moments of self-loathing, I go back and read about Haruki Murakami waking up at 4:00 AM daily to jog before sitting in front of typewriter for the next 8 hours. But even if one day I manage to find some writing habit that works for me, I imagine that I will always looks to the process of others, in their variety and individuality, to lead me towards something even better.   


Maxwell Jaffe, Blog Contributor, Nonfiction '18