The process of writing – Alexandra Borowitz

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By Alexandra Borowitz

The first step to anything I write is a cup of black tea.  That could be a coincidence because that’s the first step of every day.♥

Then comes the idea. Normally, the idea doesn’t conveniently hit me when I’ve made my tea. It usually hits me quite a while before that, but I never start writing as soon as an idea occurs to me, outside of quickly jotting down the gist. They don’t always pan out, either. For example, one idea I thought was “genius” just turned out to be the plot of The Terminator in book form, except all the robots were sex dolls (I had never seen The Terminator so I plead ignorance.)

Even though I started actively writing Family & Other Catastrophes in 2015, it was actually a combination of two other ideas that I had long before. One idea I started writing in high school – a story of a dysfunctional family with three arguing siblings, going to their dramatic mother’s house for Christmas, a holiday for which she’s historically gone overboard. The other idea came about in my early twenties, about a group of immature adults going to their friend’s wedding – their first friend to get married – and all having desperate sex with each other.  This idea was fun, but I felt it lacked the plot and substance needed for a novel.

Eventually, after copious cups of black tea, I realized that I could combine these two ideas and switch out Christmas with a wedding, but even then, the outline I had in front of me was nothing like the Family & Other Catastrophes we know now.  It started with the characters – some of whom were deleted before chapter one even made it to the screen.  For example, the main character was originally meant to have a mondo-horny teenage brother using her wedding as a way to (unsuccessfully) lose his virginity, but I wound up feeling that three siblings would work better than four, and Boner McGee might be more interesting if he were older and less of a stereotype, so he was eventually repurposed as her brother-in-law-to-be.

Once I figured out who the characters were going to be, I started working out the timeline of the book.  Because Family & Other Catastrophes is told from the perspective of multiple characters, I had to figure out each character’s story arc separately, then figure out how they would all work together in a way that made sense.  Of course, once the editing process started, all the story arcs were thrown out of place and I essentially had to start this everything all over again.

For me, at least, the easiest and most fun part of the book to write is the first chapter, during the first draft.  At that point, the project has all the potential of a first date while you’re still putting on mascara.  By definition, it hasn’t failed yet, so for all you know, it never will.  But of course it will.  That first date could become a relationship, but unless you’re someone on an Internet forum who was a homeowner at eighteen, who looks ten years younger than you are, who can’t find belts small enough for your waist and “has never fought” with your spouse, fights will happen and mistakes will be made.  But quitting isn’t the answer (unless of course the idea actually sucks, and that happens too).

After I fleshed out the plot and half-finished a first draft, and I reached a point that I always reach with any project: deciding it sucks.  And honestly, at that point, it probably did, but only because it was a first draft. I genuinely considered putting it in a drawer and never going back to it, and reached a level of self-hatred and anxiety bringing me to the conclusion that I  was a failure of a person and nobody liked me.

I snapped out of it (I also know from writer friends that all writers have this terrible spiraling anxiety. This is what writing groups are for).  I just had to put the book aside for a little while.  I tried not to worry that this was just another terrible Sex Doll Terminator. During this time, I worked on other projects – usually other newer, shinier books, still in the honeymoon phase of the timeline, character outline and first chapter, telling myself “This book will be different!  This one will be perfect from the beginning, and I won’t ever want to abandon it!”

Eventually, my affair with the newer, younger book unraveled as I came to realize that this new book has its own fair share of flaws and plot holes, so I went back to the first book, finished the first draft, then showed it to friends and family for their opinions.

Despite all the emotional ups and downs, I love the process of writing, editing and completing something I love.  The best part, outside of writing that first paragraph and feeling invincible, is the feeling I get when people read my work and enjoy it – when someone tells me their favorite funny line, and it’s the one I least expected.  It’s all worth it to hear that I made somebody laugh.

Alexandra Borowitz has been writing since she was six, and her family and friends provide endless inspiration. She was raised in New York, and spent her first years out of college in San Francisco working at advertising startups. Family and Other Catastrophes is her first novel.

1 Comment

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    Denise Reiss

    April 28, 2018 at 12:54 am

    Fantastic. Very honest revealing look at the process of writing.

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