Monday, October 24, 2011

Those Things We Do

I was recently asked in an interview to explain a little bit about my writing process. I never really thought about it. I guess every writer has a way to go about their craft. As methods go, I never followed any orthodox method. I do what works for me; which might be completely useless to someone else. Each author needs to find their own way from their head to the page. With that said, being peculiar does not mean inconsistent, disorganize or impractical. Like any other art form, writing has been largely romanticized. And in an age where a large portion of the world’s population can read and write it has been greatly underrated.

Sure, anyone can put words together to make a sentence and come up with ideas, but being a writer goes far beyond that. I can also buy some oils, apply them to a canvas and call myself a painter. I once had a friend who said that what I did wasn’t art, or even hard for that matter. “Anyone can do what you do,” he said derisively. I didn’t argue, I just told him to give it a try and if he could pull it off, I’d concede to his opinion. Of course, I never expected to hear from the subject again, so I was shocked when he called me a few months later to apologize. He never went past the first paragraph of his opus.

My process (if there is such a thing) starts with an idea, which I develop into a plot. Then I usually come up with the main character and a few secondary characters. This in turn starts enriching the plot. Inevitably, whether I have knowledge of the subject or not, I go into research mode. This is a lengthy process, as I try to assimilate as much as I can about the subjects I'm going to write. During research, I write a synopsis of the story and the timeline of each of my main characters from birth to present (or time of writing, at least). Sounds elaborate, but this is nothing more than bullet points, and the only notes I will make throughout my writing. Finally, there is a period of gestation in my head. Then, I create a loose breakdown of the chapters to give me a blueprint of how to story will flow, before I start writing the first draft. I know it sounds like I'm flying by the seat of my pants, but here are a few rules I stick to unfailingly:

1)    Write: You have heard it from other authors, from writing teachers, in books, etc. As ludicrous as it sounds, if you want to be an author, then start typing. Inspiration is just a spark; the fuel is your drive. Inspiration will not be there everyday and it will not last throughout the whole writing process. I sat in front of my computer everyday, regardless of my day job, personal situation or lack of idea as to what to write. Many times I threw away a whole day’s job, but I always found something worthwhile saving: a dialog, a situation or I’d get an idea that would spawn a new chapter. More often than not, the best chapters of the book came from those days I didn’t want to write, but still rolled up my sleeves and got down to it.

2)    Work: If you are one of those people who think authors sit down and type down a whole novel in one inspired sitting, I have news for you: Writing is serious work; a lot of work. If you don’t like re-writes; you won’t like being a writer. I usually compare my writing with sculpting, you hammer down the rough form and then start to chip away and polish it until you get the final result. It’s a lengthy process.

3)    Be professional: If you don’t take your writing seriously, nobody will. “Stop writing and come and hang out with us,” your friends will say. You wouldn’t do that if they called you in the middle of your workday, so why would you do it when you are writing? Distractions and excuses are a dime a dozen; it’s up to you to weed them out and remain focused.

4)    Get Professional Help (and I don’t mean a psychiatrist): Find a reputable writing annalist service or editor and paid for it. It is not an expense, but rather a great investment. Even if they rip apart your work, throw your artist tantrum and wait until you go over the comments with a cool head. That’s what I did after my first draft performed abysmally on the first critique. A good editor is there to help your work be better; not to conspire against you. If they don’t understand your work, chances are very few people will. That is, unless you ship a CD with every book explaining your manuscript. If you care about what you do, you’ll be upset when faced with criticism; that’s fine. We invest a lot of ourselves in our work, so it’s only natural. Blow some steam constructively in private and then get back on the horse.

As you can see, they are all related, but these rules served me well in my writing journey. I hope you can find some value in them. Keep on running!

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