Sunday, May 24, 2009

I Got Mine at Zappo's

process--a sequence of idiosyncratic events and stimuli that leads a writer to visualize, orchestrate, and revise a story; the notional warp and weft of threads the individual writer requires in order to tell a story; the tools, techniques, compulsions, and possible superstitions a writer uses in the act of generating material.

Writers come to their craft by accidental discovery, from genetic inheritance, from a desire for revenge, from a childhood illness that had them away from school for a prolonged period, from one or more stories that tipped them over into imitation then originality; and from the growing awareness that nothing else is quite as much fun. There are, to be sure, other processes in which real or imagined pain is an ingredient. Grown men and women confess they would rather do anything but write and then, as a part of their process, trudge dramatically to their work area, radiating martyrdom as they settle into the task at hand.

Beginning writers, most of whom are known to have no sense of humor, or who are likely to take everything seriously, begin to wonder if they have the necessary ingredients to tell stories because they do not abuse alcohol or drugs or sex, do not particularly care for driving fast cars, seldom vote in elections, and do not believe they are able to withstand or understand rejection. To them, any income under $100,000 a year derived from writing means failure, and reading the works of other writers means time wrenched away from their own creative efforts. These are all strands of the beginning writer's process, which undergoes subtle and individualizing shifts as the process of their own writing continues.

The process of some writers, a tenth of the way into the twenty-first century, involves first and second drafts written in ink before being transferred to the computer. The process of other writers is to keep a daily journal in which the goal is to evoke at least one emotion. Yet other writers believe implicitly in the process of halting a day's work in the middle of a sentence, thus to confront the next day's work with a direct link to work in progress. A considerable number of writers outline furiously and do not consider beginning text until they have a complete design before them, while an equally considerable number enjoy the high of striking out with no plot or plan to hinder their imagination.

All of these processes work for some and if anything shut others down completely. The key is to discover from yourself whence the process comes. Is it anger, politics, a desire to tell cautionary tales, an urge to revise historical outcomes, project futures based on worst-case scenarios? Are you advocating equality for women, same sex marriage, evangelism, creationism, irony, adventure? What is your natural gestalt? Are you an optimist? Is the glass already half empty? Shall we carpe the freaking diem?

The individual writer's process is a string of stimuli that may have emerged without the knots of culture, family, schooling, or writing books being added. There are those who seem to hear their process speaking to them early on, without having to unlearn things that were painfully acquired in the first place. No sentences that begin with And or But. No one-line paragraphs. A subject for every sentence. A topic sentence in every paragraph.

Ah.

These are not processes; these are rules. The consequence of disregarding rules should be considered before continuing, but if your process dictates a break, then break away.

A writer's process is much like a pair of shoes one sees in an ad, seemingly a perfect statement of personality, shape, and color. There is a disconnect between the vision of the shoe in the ad and the visit to the shoe store or the arrival of the shoes from Zappo's. No matter how good the shoe looks in the ad, it is of no value if it pinches at the sides or cramps the toes. You do not take the shoes, hoping to "break them in." The writer's process needs to fit, and the best fit is always hand-made.

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