People often say, “Are you a process person or a results person?”
To which I usually answer, “Yes.”
Which is true in a couple of ways. Yes, I enjoy both the process and the results of creation pretty equally, with some obvious exceptions. (The process of original drafting is pretty damn magical, regardless of where it ends up… while the process of a structural rewrite can be painful but the results can be very rewarding.)
But beyond that, I’ve learned that the process can actually help determine the results.
I’ve also learned that process is specific to the individual, and it’s a mistake (and a little ego-centric) to say that because something worked for you, it will therefore be the best for someone else. Because writing (and music and dancing and filmmaking and…) is an art, not a science. And because we’re all a study of one.
However, there are still a few valid things we can say about process…
1. We can say, “This worked for me,” and explain why, followed by, “…so it might work for you, too. Or not. But it may be worth a try.”
2. We can say, “Here are several ways people have done this, successfully, so you might want to try them and see if any of them fits your workflow.”
3. And we can say, “Regardless of which one you use, recognize that process is important. So if the work isn’t working, before you bail out and think that you’re bad or your idea is bad or your writing is bad… maybe try a different process.”
That last one is important. Not all processes work for all people. Sure. But it’s also true that in most cases, no single process will work for all projects by the same writer. I have a process I’ve dialed in over years that works well for articles, but I used a very different process for my non-fiction books. For book length fiction, they’re all somewhat different.*
[*With my first novel (still in the trunk, thank God) I made a detailed outline. But with the next one—my first published novel—I had a character and a setting and a basic conflict and an idea about where it was going, and away I went. With an SF novel, I took a short story I’d written earlier and morphed it into the first chapter of a much longer story. With the novel I recently sold, I’d just finished work on another project and still had the bug to write, so I just jumped in the next day and started writing with no plot in mind whatsoever… just a character and a vibe. And with the one on deck after that, I imagined a funny scene (just a funny line, really), made that the inciting incident, and went from there. I knew the ending—sort of—but much of the middle was discovered en route.]
So again, when the muse is on strike, don’t automatically assume there’s something fundamentally wrong with you or your writing. In my experience—both with my own work and the work of others—most of these issues are process-oriented. You can’t change who you are (and you’re the only you, regardless, so revel in that) but you can change your approach to how you’re doing the work.
It may be something pretty big-picture, like…
Issue: You’re floundering and constantly backpedaling/deleting/rewriting.
Underlying cause: Maybe you’re unclear about where you’re going.
Process change: Take off the “pants” and put on some “plot.” (Make an outline.)
Or more stylistic, such as…
Issue: The work doesn’t connect because it’s overwritten.
Underlying cause: Maybe you’re consciously trying to write “writerly.”
Process change: Get out of the way of the story and tell it plainly.
Or maybe business oriented…
Issue: Striking out with multiple projects in quick succession.
Underlying cause: Maybe you’re submitting too soon, before it’s ready.
Process change: Finish; let sit; tear into it like you didn’t write it; beta; revise; polish.
And so on.
The point isn’t to diagnose every possible process issue with our writing. The point is to recognize that when we’re not getting the results we want, the answer might not be to blindly follow the same process, like there’s only one way to do it. Instead, the answer might be to take a step back, appraise the situation objectively, and try to think of different ways to approach it.
Sometimes it’s as simple as how we think about the work itself:
Maybe my project’s not a YA book, it’s a middle grade book?
Or: Maybe it’s not a memoir, it’s an historical novel?
Or: Maybe I should dump the magic and go with the strongest part of the story, which is the contemporary/realistic aspect?
Or our marketing approach:
Maybe, since my work is an ‘amateur female detective’ mystery, I should read a bunch of amateur female detective mysteries, find the ones that are a good fit for mine, and make a targeted, personal query to the agents/editors who worked on those books?
Or: Maybe I should give the person at the other end of my query what they actually care about (a concise, compelling description of my story) instead of talking about me and my ‘brand’ and my ‘platform’…?
Or: Maybe I should shop the story that means the most to me, vs trying to catch the flavor of the month as it goes zipping by?
Or the nuts & bolts of how we actually write:
Maybe, since I’m not at my best when I get up an hour early every morning, I should forget all that ‘write every day’ advice and instead set aside a few hours each weekend when I feel motivated and productive?
Or: Maybe, instead of not putting on the editor hat until I’m done with the whole draft, I should try editing each chapter as I finish it, so I’m building on a stronger foundation?
Or: Maybe I should forget about the hypothetical reader and write a story that I, personally, would love to read?
OR… maybe… you could take some of the above options and use them as a jumping-off point and do something entirely different… different from what you’re currently doing, and different from these examples. Maybe the opposite of these examples.
That’s the whole point – there is no ‘one right way.’ But there is a way (probably several ways) that will work for you. You just won’t know which one it is until you try it.
This is where I write about things that are of interest to me and which I think may be of interest to you. I’m assuming most of you are here due to an interest in reading, writing, editing, publishing, etc., so that’s the primary focus.