I just listened to the latest episode of the Song Exploder podcast, which discusses Green Day’s Basket Case ( Turns out that the epochal ode to questionable mental health started out as a love song. Go listen to a few minutes right now, from 2:45 to about 5:10. Or listen to the whole thing if you want. I’ll wait…

That’s about how writing a book works for me (minus the crystal meth). Honestly, I don’t know exactly how I do it. I have an idea for a story; I read a bunch of stuff; I start typing every day: fragments, Socratic dialogues, technical notes, whatever bubbles up into my consciousness; eventually, the story begins to take shape and I move out of the journaling phase and into the real writing. And then surprises happen: ideas that sound good one day seem terrible the next; minor characters suddenly take on personalities that require a major plot thread; other threads that seemed critical lose their meaning and are cast aside. Finally, almost mysteriously, there is a book, and I can say with certainty that it ends up nowhere I might have guessed when I set out with that first idea.

I love that. The surprise is why I write. I can’t speak for others, but I would guess that even the most organized and methodical writers cherish that surprise when it happens. I hope they do.

(image: first draft of Kerouac’s On the Road, cc-by-sa-2.0,