Thursday, January 21, 2021

The Continuing Examination of Process


The writing process fascinates me, if only because everyone has their own. When I started out I read everything I could find on process because, frankly, I had no idea what I was doing. Outline or no outline? How detailed should the outline be? Detailed character sketches, or learn the characters as I went? How many drafts?


Now that I’ve been doing it for over twenty years and have published eleven books with another on the way (Leaving the Scene, available in May from Down and Out Books, just sayin’), I have learned two things for sure:

1.     There is no “correct” process.

2.     Find what works for you and run with it. Refine as needed.


My employment career taught me to be on the lookout for better ways to do things. Not for the sake of change, but to be alert for situations where change is necessary, if only because the conditions under which the current process was devised no longer exist. For a writer, that may mean you know more about writing than you used to.


I used to do a draft solely to refine descriptions. I eventually realized the books I liked to read didn’t spent a great deal of time on description things beyond what the reader had to know. So I cut this draft, along with the amount of description provided. If I make a point to say the character has striking blue eyes, there’s a reason for it. Even then, I’m not going to spend a page on it. James Lee Burke can do that. The more astute among have noticed I ain’t James Lee Burke.


I also used to invest a draft by going through each character’s dialog individually in an effort to prevent characters’ dialog from sounding all alike. Several years ago I decided I had reached a point where I don’t need to spend that kind of time and level of effort. This is now incorporated into the general revisions.


The end result is I now feel confident enough in my grasp of what’s required not to have to so actively search out discussions on process. That doesn’t mean I’m averse to learning what one of my favorites does. I’ve written before about stumbling over a series of lectures by David Milch and how they affected me; I’m sure you’ll hear about them again.


A few weeks ago Joe Lansdale made a series of Facebook posts describing his process. That would be worth reading even if I weren’t a writer—I suspect Lansdale’s grocery lists are entertaining—but these struck me for a couple of reasons.

1.     They showed a process similar to what I appear to be evolving toward.*

2.     They gave me ideas for what I might want to try next.

I’m not going to go into them now, as we’re already over 500 words and what I have in mind will be at least twice that long again. Consider this a teaser for what to expect the next couple of weeks. That will give me time to look them over more fully and hopefully be able to better distill my thoughts, which is why I blog in the first place: to distill my thoughts. Anything you take away is collateral damage.


*-- Alas, he did not transfer any talent in these posts. Such is life.

1 comment:

Elgin Bleecker said...

The process really is fascinating. Thanks for pointing the way to the Lansdale posts.