How do you go about writing one of your stories? What is your process like?
There are many people who can tell you more about the writing process than I can. But I’ll tell you how I do it.
The first thing to know is that writing requires brain power. And studies tell us that the human body gets its strongest surge at 5 A.M. This surge typically lasts until 5:03 A.M. Unfortunately, I am asleep during the surge and I am wholly unaware of it.
So I generally wake up exhausted at about 7:30 A.M. Then, I complain about how badly I slept the night before. When you get older, you don’t sleep as good as you used to.
My mother used to warn me about this. I would laugh at her and say “Ha ha! No way, I’ll sleep great forever! And I will always be able to eat acidic foods after six o’clock, too!”
You quit sleeping well around your thirties. And food? Once upon a time, I could eat an extra-large five-alarm beef burrito and finish the day like a caffeinated squirrel. Nowadays, if I eat one French fry I have to take a four-hour nap.
So anyway, after morning coffee, I wait for my mood to improve. I am not a morning person and never have been. My happy mood in the morning is always fake.
This is because when I was a boy I used to wake up with a bad attitude. My father took me aside once and said, “You’d better learn how to fake a good mood, or your mother’s not gonna make pancakes anymore.”
I’ve been faking good moods ever since.
When my caffeine takes effect, I go to my office. In my office, I have just about everything a writer needs to have around him. I have things like toddler toys, Superman statues, coonskin hats, my Little League glove, broken trumpets, and a taxidermied alligator wearing a Dale Earnhardt jersey.
I have these things for a serious reason. Because writing doesn’t happen when you’re writing. You have to spend plenty of time NOT writing. This act of not-writing is as important as writing.
Let me explain:
To get technical, I am talking about what scientists call, “horsing around.” This is when you wear a coonskin cap and play your broken trumpet and THINK very hard about what you’re going to write.
This thinking process is just as important as writing. Hence the alligator with the NASCAR shirt.
When I’m ready to put down words, sometimes I write on my Smith Corona typewriter. It’s an electric typewriter manufactured during the Lyndon B. Johnson administration. The motor makes a whirring sound. I learned to type on a typewriter, I can’t untrain myself to use it now and then.
They’re a lot of fun. Everytime you hit a key it makes a glorious THWAP! THWAP! I think the world would have much better literature if more people used typewriters.
Because when you write on a laptop you can backspace, correct spelling, highlight entire paragraphs, delete them, order dog food on Amazon, stream past episodes of “Dancing with the Stars,” or send an email to Pope Francis.
On a typewriter, your words stick to paper. Forever.
Once you’ve finished your first draft on the typewriter, now you need to get your words into a computer. I use an app on my phone.
It’s simple. All you do is take a picture of your typed pages. Then the app shows an hourglass for approximately forty minutes, and (voila!) just like magic, the app says, “Error 73840.”
Don’t get me wrong, the app is not without flaws. When it finally translates your pages, some of your words come through fine, but other words, such as the word “typewriter,” get translated as: 布特海德.
Thus, you have a mutant manuscript on your hands. Sometimes this is a real pain in the you-know-what. If the computer only changes the word “typewriter,” it’s no big deal. But when the software changes the words “the,” “if,” and “to” into “推特,” you are basically screwed.
But enough about that.
Now it’s time to edit. My policy is to edit once, then keep re-editing until I have created even more mistakes than a chimpanzee swinging a sock full of quarters at a computer keyboard.
But eventually you give up editing and learn to love your mistakes, instead of letting them make you feel stupid. Becuase part of being a writer is feeling stupid.
You put your thoughts out there and lots of people judge you. It’s hard putting yourself out there. In fact, this is the hardest part.
But don’t let that scare you because there are also nice people. Lots of them. Like a twenty-four-year-old who writes you because he wants to be a writer one day.
And even though you have no idea how to answer such a person, you put down your broken trumpet and Davy Crockett hat and decide to write something.
You fire up your electric 布特海德, and you write this kid because he reminds you of yourself. And you’d like him to know something you wish you had known long ago, which is:
If you want to be a writer, you already are.
Enjoy your sleep while you can, kid.
Cindy Butler - October 22, 2021 7:03 am
Absolutely loved your sentence “If you want to be a writer, you already are.” I ‘are.’ (tee hee) I’ve written a few articles in publication since 2005, an autobiography about my life (“The Hope of a Bipolar Christian”), and had a son go off to war, but return safely. I truly love what you write and read your column, online, everyday. Sometimes tears come, but mostly, giggles and smiles. You ARE a writer!
Nancy Grinstead - October 22, 2021 7:16 am
I absolutely love this
Te - October 22, 2021 10:30 am
I guess you read comments – I know I would wonder what people think of my writing. I’m a novelist. Not published, of course, but not for lack of trying. I’ve always written stuff. It’s a compulsion, having a fertile mind for plots. Got at least 10 novels in varying stages, 2 completed, and am always working on about 3 at a time. If I get stuck on one, I set it aside and work on another one until I get stuck again. Started out using pen and paper before computers . Now that I’m retired, I get a lot more done to the detriment of housecleaning and dog baths.
Elaine Montgomery - October 22, 2021 11:23 am
I’m thankful you share some of what goes on in your head with us. My heart smiles every time I read your words
Amy K Ray - October 22, 2021 12:33 pm
For anyone who reads the comments – it is well worth your time to Google the translations of Sean’s Chinese –
Sean – thank you for the giggle this morning!
Bob E - October 22, 2021 1:04 pm
Sean writes, ‘and lots of people judge you’
I’m gonna judge you – A+
Keep it up.
Ruth Mitchell - October 22, 2021 1:33 pm
Thank you for validating those of us who are writers but afraid to say so. You are gift to so many!
Lawa - October 22, 2021 2:40 pm
This is the first time I have ever posted to anything anywhere, but I absolutely HAD to respond to this piece. You have so hit the nail on the head with “horsing around,” aka “piddling around,” which allows creativity to simply burble up spontaneously from somewhere inside without any forethought. I have been involved with words and language and writing all my life, but it wasn’t until email came onto the scene that I found my real creative home, allowing me realtime back-and-forth exchanges with the people I am closest to. Being a devotee of the piddling-around life, I write out of some deep ocean of potential that is not accessible to the thinking mind. Never has anything been so astonishingly rewarding.
Bonnie Anderson - October 22, 2021 3:25 pm
My writing process is similar. On a designated writing day, I’m very productive. The laundry gets done, the garden is weeded, I schedule appointments, and cook a gourmet dinner. Sometimes I even get words on a page. Thanks for sharing your process!
Peggy ALEXANDER - October 22, 2021 3:43 pm
I have been writing ✍️ a book for 55 years. I started it when my daughter was 9 months old. I treasure those yearly books. I go back and read them ever so often. Full pages full of everyday life. The good and the bad. Babies births and them growing up and then grand babies. All about my working, 3 jobs , working about bills. Taking care of my mother and sister and their deaths. But then I can read back over my life and see how GOD brought me through it all Even a DIVORCE. God is good 😊🙏
Debi Walter - October 22, 2021 4:21 pm
You have no idea how much I needed this today. Thank you, Sean. I’ve read your posts about hour MIL with heartfelt understanding, since I’m also grieving the loss of my brother unexpectedly from Covid. Today is his birthday, our first without him. You brought tears of laughter to my eyes. Something I haven’t had in a while. I may need to buy a coonskin cap!
Bill - October 22, 2021 5:40 pm
Your sense of humor also helps to make you an interesting writer. Enjoyed your trip thru your writing process. Thanks.
Chip Noon - October 22, 2021 6:04 pm
Since when does “typewriter” translate into “butthead”?
MAM - October 22, 2021 6:31 pm
I wish when I was 24, I could have had the wisdom you just imparted to the 24-year-old. I didn’t discover I was a writer until way later in life. Not until my 50s. And I blame it all on one college English professor. My very first essay, I got a B+, which was OK, but the comment killed my desire to write. “Your grammar and spelling are 100 percent better than the average freshman’s, but you have nothing to say.” Skewer to the heart! I didn’t write anything except required items until way later. But when the mental blockage was unleashed, the words flowed. They still flow! I so appreciate that your words still flow, Sean. Thank you!
Linda Moon - October 22, 2021 8:36 pm
Ha Ha! Mothers are usually right. I should know…I am one. Like you, I am not a morning person. Mama couldn’t help with that, but she tried. So, I’ve been up a long time on this beautiful day filled with sunshine and caffeine, but I just don’t get the alligator/NASCAR shirt connection. I’ll think about that
later,,,maybe while hanging out with my cats. Putting yourself here for me to read, Writer, is a blessing – a joyous thing. Thank you for the approximately 2,345,783 words you’ve written to us. I hope the kid can do this, too!
David S Doom - October 23, 2021 3:21 am
Every morning I wake up, I get to choose the mood I have at start of the day. Many things may change my mood as the day progresses, but the day usually ends with the mood I had at the start of the day. My choice.
Christy - October 23, 2021 1:08 pm
Absolutely hysterical! Thank you for allowing me to miss my last keg of coffee and corn replacing it with laughter.
Karen - October 23, 2021 1:55 pm
I am not a writer thanks to a 10th grade English teacher who would make us read our writings aloud and then rip us apart. As a primary teacher our children kept journals. We were supposed to edit and comment in their journals! I refused. I love your honesty and everything you write about. Thank you.
Vince - October 27, 2021 5:08 pm
Whatever process it is that produces the gems you write keep it up. Please. I come here when I’ve had enough of the world (via web or newspaper) and want to read something good and uplifting. Thank you for sharing!