On my writing process (or why reflections help me survive and thrive)

It starts with a small idea: these posts begin with a title.

The seed of a long-form usually finds me while I’m going about my day– often while driving or walking, listening to a podcast. My mind, settled at the right level of distraction and engagement, wanders and discovers a title for my next post. I’ll throw that into my phone and let it stew for a day or two, allowing my subconscious to guide the direction of the long-form. If I wait the right amount of time, then the idea will sprout from my fingertips and grow from a title to sentences and then into paragraphs.

I will take two or three passes at the bulk of the long-form. I may discover the idea-seed at any time, but I find the writing and the process of germinating it must be carefully scheduled. I set aside a half-hour to let the words flow– usually a quick study break between lectures or flashcard review. Shifting focus from the hard science/memorization part of my brain to the creative/wordsmith area means I don’t overthink the words or sentence structure.

I don’t worry too much about the order of ideas or editing during this time. Just allow the idea-seed grow and stretch on its own– pruning and shaping comes later. Anything that feels relevant to the title is put into a file, adding up to around 700-1000 words.

Stopping before I run out of steam is essential to my process: I like to leave my keyboard before I squeeze my brain of all its creative juices. Leaving the page with an unfinished sentence and a ripe concept allows me to pick up where I left off at a full trot. I can groove from there with any other recent thoughts and ideas, meaning that the entire week spices my long-forms, rather than one afternoon burst.

Every once in a while, though, a specific experience or conversation will spark a long-form, not a broader idea-seed. Even more rarely, the piece will spill out in one go, like water from a cracked dam. In the same way that dreams seem to reflect our waking hours, and helps us synthesize feelings and emotions into something more digestible, the process of writing a long-form allows me to bookend my ruminations into page-long essays. That’s why I write these posts– just for myself, to help me work through the gray fuzziness of life by clicking “publish” and knowing that part of the experience is behind me.

Of course, I’ll read old posts and can think of a sentence I’d tweak here, or an idea I’d inject there. Learning how to prune and shape my pieces has been tough. Initially, I had each long-form reviewed and edited by close friends, usually two or three drafts. Now, I have a better sense of idea continuity and the flow of paragraphs– I’m still far from perfect but I’m improving with every piece. For example, this post is relatively straight-forward, from a narrative and conceptual standpoint: Introduce the idea as it relates to me personally, explain some details, and then springboard to its application more broadly.

Looking around my fellow classmates, I worry that they don’t have a creative or reflective practice. Most care for their meat-suits well, but develop their minds in that narrow dimension that is demanded by medical school– memorization and multiple-choice questions. If this were a conversation about the physical body, then they are skipping leg-day and focusing solely on the bench and bicep curls. This is weaksauce from both an aesthetic and functional perspective.

To me, the careful crafting of something personal helps sate the sexual body’s desire for intimacy and relationships. Creation is an essential part of what it means to be a fully developed and grounded human– and one need not paint oils on canvas, or publish introspections for public consumption, to develop this creative aspect. It could be a daily journal, or a notebook filled with doodles and sketches. It could be playing the bass line to a favorite song, or belting out an oldies hit during karaoke night. It just needs to come from somewhere earnest, honest, and free.

The ‘how’ or the ‘how good’ is not the important part. That it is done at all matters most.

4 thoughts on “On my writing process (or why reflections help me survive and thrive)

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