On My Writing Process: Wait, There’s a Process?
By Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi, author of Breathe. Breathe.
After Brian wrote an article the other day about his writing process, he asked a group of us to have a great writing communal session (I’m here—looking for his offertory glass of rum, he didn’t say it was BYOB) and share with him our own writing process. I think he and I will have our discussion on his porch because there isn’t any way my fragile lungs are going anywhere near his writing desk covered in cigarette ashes. I’ll dress in layers, it’s getting chilly in Ohio where we both live, and maybe have spiked warm apple cider instead.
My writing process is that I don’t really have a writing process! End of article.
Okay, not end of article, but honestly, I don’t. I’ve always been a pantser. A fly by the seat of my pants type of person and writer. I’d say I get it from Ronald Malfi, one of my author heroes and dear friend, but I have been doing it this way since I can remember. It’s just that realizing he did it this way, writing and writing and let the words flow out of your brain however they wanted to, was something that could be professionally doable. If an award-winning author can do it, so can I right? And it allows my endings on short stories to simply come out of nowhere—they do for the reader, but they do for me while writing too!
I write this way, in non-planned moments, in spurts when my brain will tell me it has something to download, even parts of short stories, flash pieces, poetry, and I write on receipts or paper scraps, in the notes section of my phone while waiting on one of my children to get out of school or practice/activity, on the notepad beside my bed when I wake up in the middle of sleep, and sometimes in the middle of the work day. As long as it’s not toilet paper, it’s good, innit?
The best times to find inspiration or time to write fiction for me are when the season temps are nice and we are out hiking the shores of Lake Erie, the many river basins, or the gorgeous ledges and forests, even historic stops and sights in the various parts of Ohio. I always have my notebook along (and often my camera), and when we stop for a break, or later deep into the night when everyone else is sleeping and my work is done, or it’s a weekend night, I’ll write poetry and short stories stemming from these experiences or inspired loosely by setting or atmosphere or a thought (even a shell or a flower).
I also like when we sit at Main Street Beach in Vermillion on Lake Erie, with the kids reading or swimming, and I get to write for a little bit in my notebook – I’ve done that with the sun’s hot rays streaming down, and I’ve done that while the clouds rolled in, the waves crashed, and the rain pelted me. The main point is that I have to be directly inspired much of the time, which leads to an impulsive moment of the creativity pouring out of me. A lot of my water-themed poems have come to me this way. I think I do my best work on the fly, with pencil and paper. The scheduling of the process comes in when I have to type it up and begin my editing process.
However, for all the seasons of hibernation or normal everyday weeks when there is a lot of work to be done during the day and late night, and kids to attend to in the evening or to support on Saturday morning events, I adjust. Sometimes after working most of the night, I write very early in the morning before sleeping a few hours and getting up and working again and caring for kids. Sometimes I’ll take an hour break in the late afternoon every month or so and write a short story or flash piece. In order to do this though, I’m much better if it’s from a prompt, either from someone or something else, or that I’ve written down previously for myself. Most of the time I find myself just drifting off to sleep in the early morning, when I’ll wake up and scribble down a poem or a thought while trying not to knock off the cat sleeping on top of me, then go back to dreamland.
Sometimes (currently no more once every few months) I’ll save a chunk of the work day and go out of the home (hence office) to a café or library and I’ll write a short story or work on one of my novels for a few hours, always incorporating in any of the pieces I’ve scribbled down in haste. However, with how much work I do in publishing from managing book releases to editing to art direction on covers to my own book and brand promotion, it’s very difficult to find time to do this with my fiction and poetry; it’s more likely I’m doing it for business. I like (and would like) nothing more than to go to the coffee shop, order the tallest café mocha they have and a cream cheese danish, turn off social media and e-mail, and have a blissful few hours of quiet to be creative. It’s pure bliss when I get to do that. When I was on a deadline for my dark poetry and short story collection, Breathe. Breathe., I wrote my story “Dandelion Yellow” with pencil and paper (from notes I had taken after the impetus for the story came to me on an extended car ride) while sitting in Relax, It’s Just Coffee café in Mansfield, Ohio with the most perfect mocha I’d had in a year. I like that I can put certain memories like this with my stories.
I would even take that quiet time with a coffee at home though! It doesn’t happen for me in long stretches. Maybe one day it will! I’ve talked about setting boundaries with my businesses and making my own writing a priority in the NEAR future, but I think I’ll still be a pantser then too.
For now, I’ll take the moments when in the middle of insanity and
chaos, when I think I can’t do one more thing, when I try to relax and meditate and breathe, when my muse takes over. She sees her chance, and she jumps, and everything I was inspired about from a short walk with my daughter, or a trip somewhere to enjoy nature or an historical location, or a musical or art piece, will all come scrambling out onto my paper through my pencil. Though my late-night editing work always involves alternative rock and gummy bears or sour patch kids, I don’t have any premeditated writing ritual such as getting up at 4 a.m., taking my breakfast plate to my desk, sipping a certain kind of coffee, with my headphones tuning into my playlist on Amazon Music.
No matter how cool that might be, or how effective it is for day-to-day work or editing, it’s just not where my fiction writing is coming from at present. If I had that much time to write my own fiction, I’d probably have complete writer’s block. I’m sure any routine with candy could cure that though.
Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi, Biography—
Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi has Bachelor of Arts degrees in English, Journalism, and History. She has 20 years of experience in her field which includes being an author, a journalist, an editor, and a PR Professional/publicist among many other things.
Breathe. Breathe.,published by Unnerving in 2017, was her debut collection and a mix of dark poetry and short stories. Her work has been called raw, honest, evocative, and beautiful by industry professionals, reviewers, and readers alike. She has stories featured in several other anthologies (Hardened Hearts, Dark Voices, PEN’s My Favorite Story) and magazines (such as Enchanted Conversation: fairytale and folklore) and was the co-editor of the gothic anthology Haunted are These Houses. She continues to write multiple stories and poems from the forests of rural Ohio.
She is an editor at Sinister Grin Press, assists with publicity at Raw Dog Screaming Press, and owns Hook of a Book Media, from which she’s busy editing and coaching writers and doing publicity for them.
You can e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org and find her easily at www.hookofabook.wordpress.com. You’ll also find her on her Amazon page, GoodReads, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
About Breathe. Breathe.
It’s the one-year anniversary of the publishing of my debut dark poetry and short story collection, Breathe. Breathe. Much of it tells my life’s pains and haunts and fears poured, sometimes savagely, onto the page. However, there is also legend, folklore, and fantasy as well. You can find it here on Amazon!