Method & Madness: An Outline of One Person’s Creative Process

Alessandra Calderín

The creative process is a tricky thing.

Sometimes we are blessed by the muse and find a flow so profound we see God. Most of the time, we do not and have to slug through a horror-inducing first draft in order to get anything decent. Everyone’s journey through their own mind is different, and the differences expand as we work with different mediums. Here’s how I tackle writing for this one… most of the time.

PITCH
It starts with an idea. This will often come from something going on or the yearly focus du jour. Maybe I read a Reddit post that got me thinking about a certain topic. Maybe it’s something I’m already passionate about. Maybe I just have a vague idea of a concept I’d like to explore. Maybe it’s Mental Health Month and I’ve got tidbits galore to share. Either way, I compile those ideas into an email and send them off to be green lit, rejected, or adjusted to fit the publication’s needs.

RESEARCH
Here’s where we dive in. I spend a lot of time here solidifying my idea and thesis. What exactly is it I’m trying to share/explain/provide resources for? Where do these resources live? What are other people saying about this topic? Especially people who disagree with my point of view. I always try to present counterpoints and add balance to any topic I tackle.

DISASTER DOCUMENT
We have not started writing yet. The disaster document is like my living bibliography where I throw the links to every source I’ve consulted and perused in my research process. I’ll paste key info and quotes I might want to use here as well. If I have interviewed anyone, this is where my transcriptions might live, as well as any other resources they’ve directed me towards.

This document is typically in Pages, where I do most of my writing. I also use SimpleNote to take quick notes and throw in links before transferring things into an official document. I jump between those two to refine my organization process and eventually format it so it makes sense to me, although it might not to anyone else.

VOMIT DRAFT
This is where I start laying out the goodies. Sometimes I start with an intro, sometimes I start with a particular point I’m excited about. I’ll go through and fill out all the points I wanted to get out. Sometimes I’ll remember something I might need a source for so I’ll look it up really quick, or if I’m being really “good” and in the zone, I’ll make a note to look it up later.

STRUCTURE
Some people may structure before they vomit, but I don’t roll that way. There is a rough structure, sure, but once I get the main points down, I’ll figure out the order they should really be in and find the narrative that will get me to a conclusion that makes sense.

This is not always the case. Sometimes I’m just trying to lay out information, in which case I want to structure it in such a way that each section builds on the last. Even if it’s just a presentation of referential knowledge, there should still be the shadow of a narrative holding it in place.

PLAYING WITH COOKIE DOUGH
Writing is rewriting and this is the meatiest part of it all. I’ll start going through each section and refine the wording, cut what doesn’t fit, and generally turn the cookie dough vomit into something resembling a cookie so it will be ready to bake.

TAKE A BREAK AND SCREAM
We get to the point where I start to ask myself why did I want to write about this. Why did I think I could take this utterly complex and nuanced topic and distill it into a 1,000–2,000-word piece. What drugs was I on? How did I think I was smart enough for this?

Here are things that might happen here:

  • various sighs, groans, and screams
  • staring at my documents and rubbing my eyes while I curl into my chair or onto the floor
  • exclaiming “why do I always do this to myself” whenever my husband walks into the room

Then eventually, I might:

  • switch to another task
  • go for a walk or swim
  • dance my frustrations out
  • practice the piano
  • meditate, preferably outside
  • take a nap or just lie down with my eyes closed
  • roll around on the foam roller

Usually, it’s something physical or some form of rest.

RESTRUCTURE
Okay, at this point I’ve stepped away, and now it’s time to come back and make sense of it all.

Hopefully, I can see more clearly and am ready to move around, cut things, and fill in any blanks. I’ll grab any bits of research from my disaster document that might still be needed, or grab whatever other sources might be required to complete the flow. I may just throw them in to edit later, or I may just write it in on the spot depending on how generously the muses are blessing me that day — or if I’ve gotten enough sleep, food, and water.

EDIT
Now we’re talking. We’ve got words, a narrative, and a structure. Time to go through and edit the damn thing. This is honestly the easiest part for me. Creation is a struggle, but honing is a challenge I love. Snip, snip, and reword. This is where we get it tight, fluid, and strengthen the narrative structure so the flow makes sense and presents the information in the most digestible format possible. I know you’re busy and need to move through these words smoothly.

SUBMIT
There comes a certain point where I can’t take it anymore and will just send off the article (usually because I said I would have it the night before and it’s the following morning). My editor luckily knows and understands this about me and never gives me grief for it.

RESUBMIT BECAUSE I FOUND NEW EDITS TO MAKE

Usually happens a few hours after I press submit. For some reason, I need to be “free” of the deadline in order to separate myself and see the words clearly for the very final pass.

FINAL EDITS
My bff Kevin (who manages this blog, say hi, Kevin) will usually let me know if there’s a link I forgot or trim verbose sentences and superfluous points.

Thanks, Kevin. He’ll send them to me to make sure none of the meaning has changed. Once everything has been OK’ed by us both, it’s ready to publish.

REST + RESET
Finally, I can rest, exercise, eat, and get ready to do it all over again!

 

About the author.

Alessandra is your friendly neighborhood writer, coach, and facilitator with a varied history of experience from digital agencies and corporations to yoga studios and gyms. Her expertise and interests range from fitness and wellness to self-care and personal development to intersectionality and justice to science and creative cultivation. She has worked on and off with Creative Circle since 2014, originally as an NYC recruiter, later as an internal sourcer, and currently as a community wellness and culture specialist as well as a contributing writer for this here blog. You can find up-to-date offerings or sign up for her newsletter at alessandracalderin.com.