Thursday, August 26, 2010

Are You Afraid of Process?

I used to consult with people who were terrified of process. So terrified in fact, that they had no defined processes at all.  I don't blame them.  Nothing stifles creativity and inventiveness like bureaucracy.  But process isn't all bad.  Imagine attempting to solve a Rubik's Cube by making random twists and turns.  It's nearly impossible.  With this approach the Universe may cease to exist long before the solution is encountered.

So I was determined to convince them that an effective process can produce astounding, even seemingly impossible results.  And what better way than to solve the Rubik's Cube blindfolded?

Now it's easy to think that the craft of writing fiction cannot be confined to a process.  Okay.  "Process" may be the wrong word.  How about guidelines?  Whether they know it or not, great writers work within guidelines to create their masterful work.  They don't leave it to blind chance.  If they did then a few of those million monkeys pecking at their keyboards would have won a Pulitzer by now.

How do you make sure your fiction ends up as a story?

There should be a beginning, a middle, and an end.  A story needs to have a plot, right?  At least one character.  Hopefully some dialogue.  A dash of narrative summary with unique and inventive prose.  And the theme of a story reveals itself in each of these elements.  Sure, the balance of each ingredient in a story may vary greatly between writers but guidelines are what makes a story a story.

How do you make sure your fiction ends up being a good story?

You can't forget about grammar, structure, and point of view.  And of course...editing.  Revisions are done in a repeatable way.  Do you edit as you go?  Or do you silence your inner critic and get the first draft down on paper no matter what?

Writers talk about the craft of writing, but creating art does have structure.  A process.  What is your routine?  Do you write at night?  Do you write everyday?  Do you write in marathons on the weekends?

Don't be afraid of process.  Like it or not, good writers surround themselves with process.  Embrace it and you may be surprised what you discover.


  1. Well said. I write novels and I critique the work of other writers. I find process isn't discussed enough, but as you say it's crucial to producing good work.
    Good writers have a system for how they do things - as you say, write then edit, research first or research later. Examine the narrative structure to check the story works.
    A lot of fledgeling writers I talk to are unwilling to make major changes to their manuscript because they have no idea how they are going to unpick the structure, or slot in new ideas. Successful writers have developed processes to do all of this and write better books because of it.
    Still more would-be writers never even get to the end of their book because the job becomes too difficult to do well.
    Even though process is a stuffy, industrial-sounding word - it helps you create better books!

  2. Hi Dirtywhitecandy,
    Thanks for your comments. I'm glad I'm not the only one to see that writing is a dichotomy between the freedom to be creative and the structure of processes.

    And you're right the point out that some writers are unwilling to do the work or make significant changes. Creating anything is hard work. Unlike the myths, even a genius like Mozart worked through drafts of the pieces he composed.