This week’s topic: create a process that works for you.
I can’t tell you how many times a fellow author’s quote has upset me for the simple reason that their opinion is presented as fact. Here are a few examples:
“Write every day, line by line, page by page, hour by hour.” — Robert McKee
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
— Maya Angelou
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” — Stephen King
Shouldn’t Those Pros Be Considered Experts?
Okay, so first of all, you might wonder why I would quote famous writers only to disagree with them. After all, these folks are heavyweights, right?
Well, for one, I don’t disagree 100% with any of this stuff. However, I think we writers are often prone to hyperbole, and we certainly feel strongly that whatever works for us will work for others. Right?
Eh, not necessarily.
And there’s the rub: if writing every day is your process, if you need to do that, then do it. But don’t prescribe that for everyone else. It might do more harm than good.
When I attended one of my first writing workshops in grad school, the professor—a respected writer who’d won some awards for his short stories—asked us on the first day of class, “Are you all writers? You all write every day?”
Now, maybe I was just a little hypersensitive, but the implication that if I don’t write every day I’m not a writer really stung. And it probably inhibited me for years afterwards, while I was still struggling to become a writer and hadn’t yet been paid a dime for my work.
Flash forward thirty years, and guess what? I’ve written more novels than my old professor ever did. He’s still around, too. (And yes, he’s old enough to be my father. Not going to mention his name.) Does that mean I’m not a writer if I don’t write every day? I think not.
As for Maya’s quote: I like the idea, but believe me, there are plenty of agonies on earth far worse than bearing an untold story. Let’s be serious.
And King? One of the richest, most successful writers of all time, but I don’t want to write like him. Never did, never will. My aim is for great, lasting literature. Who cares what that guy thinks about a perfectly good part of speech? (See what I did there?)
How Will I Know If It Works?
So this is the real question. How will you know what process works best for you, if you haven’t tried it?
Fact is, you won’t. You have to find your way, just like every other writer out there.
People can give you advice. You can take courses. You can, and should, read widely. But the process of writing a book—which I often compare to climbing Mt. Everest alone with a spoon for a walking stick—is your process. Outline or no outline, plotter, pantser, or plantser, you have to do what works. And that might mean throwing a lot of spaghetti at the wall until something sticks.
My process? I have to start with characters, dialogue, snippets of scenes. I create only the roughest of outline, or no outline at all, until I have some pages. Even then, a lot of it is like pulling teeth. My own teeth. And I’m not one of those lucky ducks who loves to write. Like Dorothy Parker, “I love having written.” Big difference.
Have you found a process that works like a charm for you? Still trying to find it? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.