I never thought I had much of a writing process until we put together our Known workshop a few months ago. Behind the scenes, my imposter syndrome was in full force. Who am I to co-lead a writing workshop? I have a BA in communication, not English. I abuse commas and italics like it’s my job and still hesitate when I tell people I’m a…..a….a…..writer (fighting the urge to use air quotes, naturally).
I’m sure some of the other C+C writers could relate to those feelings of inadequacy as we prepared lessons for a 6-week course on writing and creativity. A few of them confessed to me privately: I don’t feel qualified to do this.
But I think the magic of the Known workshop lies in the fact that we are not Professional Experts. On the contrary, we have all worked hard to blend the craft of writing with child-rearing and somehow, it works for us, even though we each have a different process.
For example, I know that April’s phone is full of bizarre word groupings like “it was never about the hamburger." I know that she sits down to untangle her notes with noise canceling headphones and tea that always goes neglected. I know Anna Q puts her thoughts together while she runs outside, and that Katie writes in the morning at her kitchen table before her kids wake up (worth noting: she has three kids under the age of four, if you’d like to send her coffee).
I know that Callie writes everything longhand and has never thrown a single draft away, including journal entries from the first grade. Melanie jots down notes on her phone in the waiting room at the therapist (and also while she watches The Walking Dead – how?). I know that Suzy writes every day during naptime, in her bed, with coffee and chocolate, and that Anna J jots down essay ideas on her phone while she’s breastfeeding. I know that Lesley is in survival mode and somehow manages to find pockets of time to create art in between growing a baby and caring for two small children. N’tima gets hit with inspiration at the most inconvenient times, usually when her hands are full or when she’s half asleep. I know she edits each draft about 40 times, just like me.
None of us have fancy offices. We think and write everywhere and anywhere, from California to Canada to Japan, from the couch to the coffee shop.
As for me? I suppose my process starts with paying attention. The way the sunlight bounces off the kitchen table in the afternoon, the way Carson clutches my shirt while he nurses, the way Everett only holds his blue blanket by one tattered corner. I pay attention to what I see and what I hear and how I feel and I put words to all of it. Then I let the words swirl in my head for a while.
The title comes to me first, and then the ending, and then the beginning, and then the middle.
I think best in the shower, so that’s where the words stop swirling and start forming, like when a big patch of clouds come together a certain way and all of a sudden, you’re staring at the distinct shape of an elephant in the sky. The words go from scattered to connected and I start piecing sentences together like a jigsaw puzzle. All of this is done in my head.
When my head gets too full, I break out my laptop and curl up in my bed to start what we writers affectionately call "the shitty first draft." This is the hardest part for me, translating the thoughts in my head to paper. Does this even make sense? Does this essay suck? How long can I stare at this blank word document before someone notices I have no idea what I'm doing?
I get a snack. I start a load of laundry. I check Facebook. I come back to the blank page and keep trying to transcribe the thoughts in my head. It is a difficult, grueling process. Sometimes I have to walk away for a few hours or a few days. Somewhere along the line, perhaps at the fifth or sixth paragraph, I hit my stride—my runners high—and everything else pours out. The ending line was already decided weeks ago. I add it to the bottom and click save.
And then I’m done!
Just kidding. The work has really only begun. I read the first draft at least a dozen more times. I move a sentence. I delete a paragraph. I notice that I’ve used the word “surprising” twice, so I bust out my trusted thesaurus and find more options: startling, unexpected, swift, sudden. I choose the best word to fit the sentence, and move on. I tweak a few more words, and finally, when I’m mostly satisfied, I ask someone else to read it.
Sometimes I e-mail my draft directly to April or Katie; other times I upload it in our shared Google drive where five of the other C+C writers will read it. They all weigh in. Oh, this is good. This part is confusing to me. I would delete this sentence; you don’t need it.
I sort through all the advice, make more changes, and call it done. For now. The essay will be published in three weeks, and I will read it at least 27 more times before then. I brainstorm a photo idea, take the photo, edit the photo, and export it at 800 pixels wide. Everything gets loaded into Squarespace, properly formatted and linked and tagged and categorized, scheduled to publish at 5am.
The night before the post goes live, my husband proofreads my essay one more time, and catches a typo that everyone else had missed. Every single time, he catches (at least) one typo. It’s maddening. I fall asleep praying that my post would mean something to someone. I thank God for this space, for these readers, for these writers, for all of it.
And then I wake up with butterflies.
Behind the scenes of Coffee + Crumbs, there is a whole team of women who are getting up early and staying up late and paying babysitters to keep this space running, to keep the stories coming, to continue (hopefully) blessing you and encouraging you along your motherhood journey.
And we want to thank you for your part in this, because Coffee + Crumbs is a two-way street. Writing and reading go hand-in-hand and we want to acknowledge all of the ways that you show up for us: the comments, the e-mails, the Instagram likes, the Facebook shares. You make it easy for us to be raw and vulnerable, because you love us so well. Thank you. What an honor and privilege it is to write for you.
All of us are doing our best to steward this place (and our words) with great care and conviction. We believe the art that we create at Coffee + Crumbs is valuable, and we hope you do, too.
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Written by Ashlee Gadd.