The secret to writing – Kim Gruenenfelder

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By Kim Gruenenfelder

On a yellow legal pad, I jot down the following lines: I’m crying in the bathroom stall at work. He’s not in love. Maybe he never was. Why did I somehow think we’d end up together?♥

Then I expand that happy little moment:

You want to know why you were so happy on your wedding day? Was it because you were in love with your husband? Of course. But a big part was also that you never had to deal with the Jays and the Connors and the Bruces of the world again. Never have to have that awful feeling in the pit of your stomach when a guy tells you how beautiful you are, then disappears for two weeks. Or when you have amazing text and email conversations, only to meet in person and watch that look of disappointment he has when he sees what you look like in real life. Or to date for two years, and be ambushed by your boyfriend telling over a nice dinner that this just isn’t working out for him. Then realizing he’s already sleeping with someone else. On your wedding day you realize you are never going to throw up again after hours of crying because he didn’t think you were enough. You were never again going to wake up aftersex feeling like a slut. You were never going to wait by the phone, too many thoughts racing through your head – all of them mean.

Did I mention I write romantic comedy novels? Comedy. And none of this is funny. Right now, it’s just a bunch of wild lines. Bits of yarn that may or may not get woven into a story. Right now, I am trying to write a new type of book from the ones I have written before. And I am totally fucked. My storylines aren’t making sense. I know what I want to say, but I can’t put it into words. And I am so not in a funny place today. I’m more in a, “Maybe I should take up smoking” place.

So, how am I going to get a novel out of this… complete…. What is the word I’m looking for?

(I stare at my computer for awhile. Go downstairs and get a cup of coffee and a little ice cream. Check my phone for texts. Pace.)

Mess. The word I have spent the last twelve minutes agonizing over is “mess”.

Twelve minutes.

And those twelve minutes are the big secret to writing.

By the way…. now, I am going to give you the secret to writing. Are you ready?

Show up.

Yup – that’s the big secret. Just sit down and do it.

Show up. Show up. Show up.

Even when it’s painful. Especially when it’s painful. Even when you have nothing to write. Even if all you do is stare at the computer and think for hours while you distractedly play solitaire or Candy Crush. Even when you start frantically cleaning your house because you’ve got nothing. As you do dishes or laundry or walk the dog for the fifth time today – think about your story line. Think about the characters. The muse will come – you just need to be there when her plane lands.

Show up.

Write crap. It’s going to be bad. The first draft is always crap.

When you get distracted by thinking about your ballooning student loans? Give yourself a few minutes to obsess, but then get back to work. Show up.

Suddenly thinking about an ex who doesn’t love you? Well, let’s face it, he’s a fuckhead. Either find a way to skewer him in your story, or get him out of your head and get to work.

How about the fact that you haven’t had sex with your husband in two weeks? (Three weeks? What is today? Wait – what month are we in?) Promise yourself you’ll have sex tonight, and get back to your story (or lack thereof.)

As you write, are you feeling all of the feelings and seeing the scene but can’t put it into words properly? That’s part of the process.

Feeling a little pain? Feeling like a failure? Congratulations – that’s what writing is supposed to look like. Stay in that feeling and write your scene badly. But keep writing. That feeling of helplessness or self loathing will eventually go away if you push through it. I promise. Eventually it will be replaced by the high you’ll get once you’ve cracked your story.

Show up.

And once you’ve got your first draft? Show up for rewriting.

Rewriting is the key to writing.

That first sentence of this article I said I wrote? That was a lie. What I actually wrote was: “On a notepad to”(scratched out) I sketch the following lines: I am grateful.

And then I stopped this essay mid sentence, and switched to scribbling down random lines for my next book.

I crossed out “note” and added “yellow legal”. “Sketch” was colored over and replaced with “jot down”.

Confusing, right? Explaining the process always is.

(And in case you’re wondering, I did turn those lines into something funny.)

Show up.

And I look forward to your first book signing.

Kim Gruenenfelder has had five novels published, including Love the Wine You’re With, which was released by St. Martin’s Press on June 13. She lives in Los Angeles with her family, and has continued for many years to hate writing, yet love having written. She is also the creator of the word “eciah” and curates, a website where people can share their stories of the moment in their lives when their futures suddenly got brighter.

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