Our focus here on the blog has been largely about Preparing, Publishing, and Promoting your books, but we want to start talking more about what comes before...the writing. Join us in welcoming our newest Expert to the Team, Anne Janzer, who will be contributing a monthly article on the writing process. (Catch her earlier posts on Using Intentional Practice to Improve Your Writing and Learn to Love Revision if you missed them.) Here are some interesting factoids about Anne...
Anne spent years working in the technology industry as a professional writer and marketing consultant, cranking out content for hundreds of different brands. That work inspired her first book on marketing, Subscription Marketing, which has been named one of the best marketing books of all time by BookAuthority. (The third edition of that book will arrive in 2020.)
While creating content for her clients, she tweaked and tuned her own, quirky writing process. Eventually, curiosity compelled her to learn more about the process and science of writing. She has turned this interest into three books on writing: The Writer’s Process, The Workplace Writer’s Process, and Writing to Be Understood.
This fascination with human behavior and mental processes is nothing new for her. As a college student, she took way more psychology classes than most English majors. To this day, she enjoys reading about the latest findings in cognitive science and figuring out how to apply them to writing.
Today Anne lives on the central coast of California, in an area rife with day-hiking opportunities. (Walking in nature solicits the open attention so productive to writing and creativity.) She also enjoys singing with choral groups. (Science has demonstrated both psychological and physical benefits from choral singing, so give it a try.)
Now, here's Anne on her favorite topic:
Nearly every interview with a famous author involves questions about their process: What does your writing day look like? Where do you write? What inspires you?
Why are we so fascinated with famous authors’ processes?
Are We Seeking a Blueprint?
Do we imagine that if we do the same things, we’ll have the same success?
Perhaps we want validation that our process is the right one.
This fascination with other writers' processes can backfire if it doesn’t match our own.
Kafka wrote in the dead of the night, for instance. Does that mean you should, too?
Many of us cannot rise at 5 am, or shut ourselves away in a cabin in the woods, or do the other things that famous authors do. Hearing about their lives, you may be tempted to think, “I can’t do that. I guess I’ll never be a real writer.”
If you enjoy reading about other authors’ processes, indulge yourself. It’s fun. You might pick up useful tips and inspiration. (Sarah Stodola has written a wonderful book about famous authors' writing processes, called Process. That’s where I learned fun facts about Kafka.)
The only writing process that deserves your fascination is your own.
Searching for validation or the “right answer” in other writers' processes is a fool’s game. We have different life situations, writing skills, genres, and objectives. Most of all, we bring different mental processes to the work at hand.
The Inner Game of Writing
Writing is a recent development in human history. Homo sapiens have not evolved to use written symbols to exchange ideas at scale.
To handle this enormously complicated task, our brains co-opt a bunch of mental systems, throwing things together like an inner McGyver. We’re improvising, and most of the time it works.
Consider the tasks involved in writing a book: research, ideation or plotting, outlining, drafting, revising, and so on. The “brainstorming” mind is nothing like the proofreading mind, yet both are needed to write a book.
Our Writing Brains are Unique
Happily, we have enormously adaptable brains to help us manage the range of writing tasks. We also vary greatly in our mental toolkits.
Our brains rewire themselves throughout our lives and are shaped and activated by environment and circumstances as much as genetics. You and I will approach the mental work of writing differently.
Given the complexity of the task, and variations in our life experiences and mental habits, it’s absurd to imagine that there’s a “right” way to write a book.
Your favorite author’s habits may be counterproductive for you.
The Quest for Your Own Ideal Writing Process
I believe that each of us has an ideal process that works for our situations. Respecting and observing that process makes us happier and more productive authors.
Your best process and mine may vary dramatically.
Some writers work in the early hours of the morning, others late at night. One person may write a book in one-hour time slots stretched out over months or years; others may need to retreat from the world to a cabin in the woods for a burst of concentrated work.
Your best process may evolve as your skills grow or the demands on your time and attention shift.
Become an Expert on Your Own Writing Process
Pay attention to what works for you, in every phase of the process. When you struggle, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, look at the process. Can you experiment and make it better?
Future posts here on the writing process will cover various phases of the work, and handling the distractions common to us all: distractions, lack of time, fear, and more.
For now, pay attention to what you’re doing and how it feels. See if you can tweak and tune what you do to work for you better, right now.
Here are a few ways to experiment with your ideal writing process:
- Try writing in different situations: the library, your office, sitting outside a cafe with a laptop, at a standing desk, and so on. See which environments sustain which kinds of work (brainstorming, drafting, editing, etc.)
- Do you need silence or sound? Try writing with white noise or instrumental music in the background and see how it affects your focus.
- Pay attention when ideas pop into your head. What were you doing just before the idea arrived? Where was your attention?
- What distracts you from your writing? Your phone? Your loved ones? Your own wandering attention? Experiment with dealing with those distractions: shut off the phone, shut the door, set a timer and commit to working without a break.
If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, you’ve got the perfect opportunity to explore and experiment with your writing process, because you’re writing every day.
Approach the inner game of writing with the same creativity you use for your novel. You might finish November with not only a manuscript, but also a new mastery of your process.
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