On Process

Hey, everyone! Hoping everything is going well. If not, then I hope that your enemies are at least doing less well!

I’ve been thinking a bit about process lately. That’s something that we “aspiring” writers tend to think a lot about, in my experience. We think about word quotas and what time of day we should work or how many hours we should spend. We think about which word processor to use and which computer or which pen and which ink on which paper or in which journal. And for the most part, that’s fine! Most writers I know aren’t operating under the impression that finding the exact right way to work will suddenly unlock the writerly heavens and let the words flow forth in a torrent. They do, however, want to find the process that leads to the most work getting done with the least stress and obstacles.

Again, that’s fine. Most professional, full-time authors that I know of seem to have fairly settled processes by this point. They know the way they work, and they keep doing it because it works. Published, full-time authors always seem mildly bemused by questions of process, but here’s the thing: it helps to get a glimpse of what the life is like. Many of us are still in the early phase that Stephen King describes in On Writing: balancing a cheap typewriter on our knees (or maybe a piece of wood across our knees) as we tuck ourselves into the corners of our laundry rooms. It’s nice to hear that there is a stage when you have a room of your own, with a desk and a door you can close, into which you can disappear for as long as it takes to produce your 2000 words a day.

This is kind of like that scene in Bull Durham, when Crash Davis describes what it was like to be in the Majors:

I think that’s part of why so many of us like hearing about the processes of those who have “made it”, or at least seeing photos of their workspaces.

There’s something else here, though. It’s also about learning tips and sharing ideas. It’s about sharing bits of process.

In my day job, I do a fair amount of carpentry. Not enough that I consider myself a carpenter, but a decent amount. I often work with guys who are actual carpenters, and one thing I’ve noticed about carpenters over the years–every single one I’ve ever known–is that no matter how good they are, no matter how experienced, they are always excited to see something new. They’ll take a long gander at another carpenter’s toolbox, to see how he organizes it. They’ll notice that another carpenter might be doing something just a little bit differently–marking a piece of wood for cutting, perhaps–and they’ll say, “I should watch her do that because her cuts are always really accurate.” It’s about learning new tricks to do with wood or maybe a new joinery technique: “Hey, my dovetails are never as tight as they should be and yours are always perfect. Mind if I watch?”

I think that’s a big part of why writers are so fascinated about process. It’s the nuts-and-bolts of the job, the actual part of doing the work that doesn’t boil down to character questions or literary techniques. (Don’t get me wrong: we’re keenly interested in that stuff, too!)

Talking process is basically the writers’ version of talking shop.

(A note on my own process: for several years now I’ve been getting up at 5:30 am to make coffee and then write for about 45 minutes or so before I leave for work. Lately I’ve noticed diminishing returns from this practice, so I’ve changed it up the last few weeks: while I still get up at that time, I no longer write at that point in the morning. The laptop stays closed. Instead, I read. Dedicated reading time is every bit as important as dedicated writing time. Reading is part of the job, so building it into my schedule is a good thing. Now, I’ll likely change back to writing once we get to November and NaNoWriMo, but for now I intend to keep up with my morning reading. In the small hours, before it’s light out, when the house is silent and the coffee mug is warm? That’s a great time to get some reading done, folks.)

UPDATES!

What I’m working on: With Amongst the Stars out and The Chilling Killing Wind in the hands of a capable beta, I’m back to Orion’s Huntress. I’m currently re-reading the existing material and rewriting a few small bits of it before I return to drafting the rest of the book.

What I’m reading: The Explorers Guild, Vol.1, by John Baird and Kevin Costner. (So far I’m digging this one. It’s a bit of a throwback in terms of writing style, so your mileage may vary. It’s also a gorgeous book with some of the best book design I’ve ever seen. I’ll review it on Goodreads when I’m done but I’m sufficiently jazzed by the book design that I may write a post here just about that.)

Paris: The Secret History, by Andrew Hussey. History book about Paris, but from the viewpoints of the city’s often seedy underbelly. Engaging read thus far.

The Memoirs of Hector Berlioz. I’ve been meaning to read Berlioz’s memoirs for over thirty years. Time to get it done.

The Three Musketeers, Dumas. I love Dumas and I’m re-reading this, with the intent of reading the entire series of books about these iconic heroes.

These last three titles, by the way, are a part of a reading experiment I’m doing wherein I pick a few books that have very short chapters, and then I read a chapter a day from each. In this way it takes a long time to get through a book, I admit, but reading in short bursts is a valuable skill, and in the case of 19th-century novels, it’s a nice way to capture the feeling of serialization that the first readers had.

On Byzantium’s Shores, my Personal Blog:
Box of Dreams, regarding an antique box
On Choosing Happiness, a bit of introspection occasioned by a fully-clothed dip in a stream
Thoughts on Twenty Years of Harry Potter

Have a great week, and I’ll see you around the Galaxy!

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