When I write, I start by creating an “honest draft.”
That means I suspend that part of myself that is desperately thinking, “Will people like this? Will people like me? Will they be mad or happy with this sentence?” I struggle with wanting everyone on the planet to like me and that affliction can lead to weak, watered down writing. (Trying to make everyone like you is also the quickest way to hate yourself.)
Being honest, also means I have to watch out for unnecessary mic drop moments. As a writer it’s tempting to say things that are dramatic but not necessarily true. You’re not lying when you do this, you’re just performing for an audience that isn’t even there yet. That changes what you write in a negative way.
An example of that was a line I was going to put in my new book Do Over until my wife told me it was a lie. The line was, “People never forget your generosity and always remember your greed.” That one would have received a billion retweets because it has that tricky “say two things but in opposite way” hustle and flow to it.
The problem is that it’s only half true. People forget your generosity all the time. That’s the concept of taking things for granted. The second half is true though. When you’re greedy to someone, when you burn a relationship, people remember that for a long time. I took the part about generosity out and focused on the true statement about greed.
Once I have written a draft that is honest, I read it and immediately get depressed.
The words that flow out of me naturally are in the vein of Counting Crows.
I’m a pretty melancholy person at heart and what erupts at first is usually pretty grey.
But I’m hopeful, too. I have a bedrock of joy and I have to dig through the first draft to find it. I must crawl through the murky for the light at the end of the tunnel as it were.
So the second draft is the “hope draft.”
It is not sugar coated. It’s honestly hopeful, not falsely optimistic. You can say hard things and still be hopeful. I can go too far in this draft with the positivity if I am not careful. I can end up promising things that are fake, adding too many roses to a garden that does have tigers in it.
Once I’m satisfied that I’ve been honest and hopeful, I start on the “hilarious draft.”
I like to laugh. I like making other people laugh. It also differentiates me from a lot of the people in my space because they’re not funny. Humor is a strength of mine and like all strengths, I tend to ignore it if I am not careful.
When writing, I often slip into “serious author mode.” This usually involves a tweed coat with elbow patches and a pipe that harkens to a day when people still carried caramels in their pockets.
After I read the first two drafts, I usually realize they are completely devoid of humor. Movie studios hire comedians to “punch up” scripts by adding jokes to them and that is essentially what I do.
The challenge is to not get lazy with this third draft.
If I try to take shortcuts I end up adding tired jokes to my prose that have very little tread left on them. If I throw in a random mention of queso for instance, that is usually me being lazy.
That’s my writing process.