Freedom to Be Messy

The desk in my office is tidy with everything in its place.  The closets in my house are organized with things hung neatly on hangers or folded nicely and put on shelves.  The dishes in my sink are always washed way before any leftover food gets crusty.  But when it comes to writing, in order to harness my most creative ideas and whip my rough drafts into their best shape, I discovered that I needed to give myself permission to be messy.

My writing process begins with notes about characters and story lines in a spiral notebook, and I let everything about that part of the process be messy.  My handwriting is a mixture of print and cursive in large letters all over the page.  I always use wide-ruled paper but rarely write on the lines.  And I don't start at the beginning of the notebook and progress through the pages but rather write randomly on any page I want.  I found that this allows me to let my creative self really dump any possible ideas into that notebook.  Many ideas are never used but sometimes those ideas that seem useless on the surface are the ones that lead to the really inspirational ideas that allow me to create a unique story.

Once I've "messed up" my spiral notebook with enough good ideas, I sit myself down at my laptop and begin writing.  This part of my process is not all that messy, although there are times that once I get into my work, I skip around and don't write the story in sequence.  Doing that allows me to sort have the feeling of walking around the perimeter of my story and seeing as much of it at one times as I can.

After I have a rough draft completed, I print it out.  It's always a good feeling to hold that draft in my hands because, at this point, it is neat and tidy, the way I like things in my life to be.  But it doesn't stay that way for long because revision comes next.  I mark up that printed manuscript by making changes with a pencil.  I write all over that thing, and again, not in a very neat way.  I have scratch-outs, and arrows, and I write in the margins, the headers, the footers, and sometimes on the back side of the page.

Then I head back to the computer and input all those changes and usually in the process make even more changes.  Printing it out again comes next, and you guessed it, I mark up that new, neat, and tidy draft until it looks good and messy.  And so the process continues until I am ready to send it to my editor.  Once my editor gets a hold of it, he gets his chance to mess it up with all kinds of comments, suggestions, and changes.  I get it back and work to revise it according to those changes until both my editor and I are confident that the story is the best that it can be.

I know I would never be able to get to this point if I did not allow myself to be messy, really messy.  As a beginning writer, I always felt compelled to keep my writing as neat as everything else in my life, and if I had not been willing to give myself permission to break that habit when it comes to my work, I would never have been able to give my stories the creative freedom they need to become the books that readers enjoy.

Happy Reading (and Messy Writing),


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