I’m sure I’ve written this post before, and I probably will write it again, but I’m such a dope I seem to always be forgetting about this issue. It helps me to reiterate it, and maybe some writer on some random Google search will come across it and take something home from it. Who knows.
I teach beginner writers a lot, and they always ask me about advice they’ve gotten from writing books or other writers with regard to process. They think they absolutely should be writing X number of words, every day, at the same time. That it should all come out perfect in the first draft, and that writers who are published are just amazingly talented geniuses.
I don’t know how much they absorb of what I say, but I try my damnedest to shatter these illusions. I talk about planners and “pantsers” (those who fly by the seat of their pants, never knowing what will come next). I talk about notebooks, about habits, about writing a few words every day. That some of us can get up at 5 a.m. every single morning and write for two hours before we go to our day jobs, and others write in bipolar fits and bursts.
They’re all happy to find they can develop their own process, but I usually don’t have them around long enough to discover what those processes wind up being. So when I think about the writing process, I tend to only think about my writing process.
I get into such a rut about how I write, I can’t imagine anyone could do it differently. If they do, it certainly can’t be as good. Yes, I am alone and isolated a bit much for my own good.
But a conversation I had the other day reminded me that the writing world does not revolve around me. Harsh, I know.
I mentioned my current goal of writing 3000 words a day for the next 6 weeks, and my writer colleague nearly fell out of his chair. He felt that was a gargantuan task, but I, after several years of NaNoWriMo experience, think it’s a great way to get first drafts finished. I like the revision part much better, you see.
He said he once determined to write a novel by a certain date, writing 500 some-odd words every day. It nearly killed him, literally – he required heart medication.
As we delved deeper, we discovered other differences. He must have every word perfect before he can move forward to the next. I’m likely to just throw in a pair of brackets, i.e., [some sort of gray thing], so I can fix it later.
I see the story as a film in my head – I have to transcribe it as quickly as possible, or it will move on without me and I’ll miss significant chunks. He doesn’t see the story visually at all – to him, the text and the characters’ emotions are everything.
I start with an idea, usually a broad theme, but must focus on a character with a conflict and a broad outline (or just a direction) to start writing. He takes the theme and runs with it.
I know others have varying differences: one author I know can write the 3000 words a day, but she doesn’t work from an outline beyond some ideas she works out the night before as she’s falling asleep. I’d be Ed Norton in Fight Club if I tried that.
I may be working on a joint grant sometime in the future on multimodal creativity, essentially developing a software for writers, new media writers, and multimodal creators to be able to work and develop a project all within one platform. In order to do that, I’m going to have to become very familiar with the wide range of processes people engage to get their work done.
I’m looking forward to that, to the motivation it provides when I find people can work faster and better than I do, to the simple understanding of the ways creative pieces emerge. After all, the end product is generally in a similar package and format – it’s how we all get there that’s different each time.
It’s a big part of the practice-based research discussions that are ongoing among creative industries academics – that not only is the end product important, so is the method for getting there. The experience of creating, and our shared understanding of that, is just as worthy an academic topic as is structuralist discourse.
I suppose I’ll have to write a dissertation chapter on it. Just not today.