Heeding Advice on the Writing Process
If you're anything like me, you've wondered from time to time whether your particular writing process is effective. Perhaps you follow your intuition and do what feels right for you, but there’s a nagging voice in your head telling you that you could do better. There are seemingly endless articles and videos out there in which famous writers expound on their own tried-and-true writing processes. Is listening to their advice helpful or harmful to an amateur writer?
If you're anything like me, you've wondered from time to time whether your particular writing process is effective. Perhaps you follow your intuition and do what feels right for you, but there’s a nagging voice in the back of your mind telling you that you could do better. There are seemingly endless articles and videos out there in which famous writers expound on their own tried-and-true writing processes. Is listening to their advice helpful or harmful to an amateur writer?
I personally love to write for a few hours before noon, and I tend to edit my first drafts as I write them. Sometimes this bogs me down and I have to force myself to focus on new material and leave the rest for the second draft. Is this the best way I could work? I don't know. Could I be more efficient if I adopted another strategy? Perhaps. I often think I could benefit from writing faster. I've read endless articles and a few books about the writing process to try to find something that works for me. I have written a first draft of a novel by the seat of my pants because I thought I was a pantser, only to abandon it because the result was too much of a mess. I've tried excessive plotting and gotten bogged down to the point where I didn't want to write anything. I've recently gone back to my initial edit-as-I-go style as I write some new short stories, and although it's working as well as it ever has, I have a confession to make. Sometimes I feel that I'm doing something wrong.
I'd like to clarify that I don't think I'm doing anything wrong -- I feel like I am. This is an important distinction. The latter is a compulsion, and I think it originates from obsessing over the styles of other writers, writers far more successful than myself. Stephen King, for example, says he writes 2000 words-per-day religiously, even on his birthday and holidays. He claims to be able to hold all the logic of his novels in his head without writing down so much as a sentence on a sticky-note. In comparison, I need to take at least a day off of writing a week for my own sanity, and if I work two or three hours I might generate 1000 new words. Should I try his don't-write-anything-down method? Tried it, and no. That doesn't work for me. My memory is horrible and if I don't track the plot it slips away on me. Another famous author, Jerry Jenkins, edits his previous day's writing each day before he starts the new stuff. He claims that writing and editing are separate processes that should not intermingle. Someone tell that to my brain, because I don't think it got the memo. If you listen to the styles of enough successful authors you will hear plenty of different processes for writing, and many of them will contradict.
Am I suggesting you shouldn't listen to these masters? No, not at all. I've picked up plenty of gems from reading how other authors work. But it's like picking through a yard sale -- you have to wade through the junk to find the occasional gem. You need to be discerning about what advice you take from other authors, even the super famous ones. It's not all going to apply to you.
And perhaps most importantly, learn to listen to your gut. Ironically, this advice is echoed in the tale of another master storyteller's process, that of author Les Edgerton, who admits he also tried to follow the process of other writers and eventually, after several frustrating years, discovered that his own process -- writing morning until night, editing his work as he went until it was exactly the way he wanted it -- worked best for him.
One final exception to the rule when it comes to the writing process that I would like to mention is famous horror novelist Dean Koontz. I've found that most writing process advice from famous authors stresses daily word count and pumping out first draft material as fast as humanly possible before editing. Mr. Koontz claims he works contrary to this, and his personal process is driven by the fact that he is so insecure about his own work. He states that, much like Edgerton, he can sometimes work from morning to night on a single page, throwing out countless versions until he has a draft that he believes works. Although this is an unusual process, I don't think anyone would argue that it's been wildly successful for Dean Koontz.
So, listen to others when considering your writing process, but be discerning. Never stop listening to your intuition. It often knows what works best for you.
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