Processing My Process (or Not)*
by Sheila Webster Boneham
Most people have a vague notion of what writers do, and an even hazier notion of what we really do.
- First, they tell us, we "prewrite," which essentially means we figure out what we want to write and who might read it, and we brainstorm what we should include and research the things we need to learn or confirm.
- Then we "draft," and when we have something that is more or less presentable, we show it to other people for feedback. (Note - "other people" should be neither your mother, who will love anything you write, nor the rabid Tasmanian devils we sometimes find in critique groups.)
- Next, we "revise." This is a step that many new(ish) writers resist. That’s sad, for them and their work and, if they put it into the public realm, for their readers as well. Revision is the real writing in serious writing for most of us.
- The fourth designated step is "proofreading." Yes, writers, please proofread. Okay, confession time. I’m a lazy bum about proofreading when I post quickly online. Manuscripts and galleys, though, are subject to my fine-toothed comb to check for my own errors and those inserted by gremlins during the production process. Alas, some still get by, but without the effort, they all would. And proofreading must be done by actually reading, not just by electronic "checkers."
- The final step in formal process is "publishing," which is used in the old-fashioned sense of "to make public" by sharing. Publication may be what we usually think of – print – or it may be public performance or even simply putting the work in front of a limited group of family or friends.
|Cherries and Pewter, Watercolor.|
Mostly I think of the traditional five-step construct is a nice way to pretend that we understand what we do when we "go creative."
Back to my readers' questions about my process. Is it the five-step approach? Well, sort of, but my way into, around, and back out of my work is much less tidy. Rather than an orderly multi-course meal, I prefer the deliciousness of creative work in more of a one-dish affair.
Beyond that, I can't tell you exactly what happens when I write, but I can tell you that it takes about twenty minutes at the keyboard to warm up, and then the little driver in my brain shifts gears and my writing motor takes off, and creativity happens. Does such an apparently chaotic approach work, or am I in the trouble I mentioned earlier? I’ve written 22 books and hundreds of articles, and currently have two novels, a play, two long essays, and some poems underway, so other than having a lot of irons in the fire, I don’t think I’m in too much trouble. This approach works for me. It might not work for someone else.
Rather than a process, I like to think of what I do as more of a habit. An addiction, really. I write almost every day, and I have done so for thirty years. (Yes, I did start very young!)
Occasionally I take a break, but after three or four days of no serious writing, I break out in mental hives. Please understand that when I say "write," I mean I sit down and I work. Sometimes I get into the flow and pump out five hundred, a thousand, up to two thousand words a day. Sometimes I stare at the screen or (rarely now) paper and write two words. Sometimes I brainstorm or revise or make lists or charts or squiggly diagrams of plot. Sometimes I do all of the above, a few minutes here, a half hour there. And okay, sure, sometimes I play backgammon or surf the web. But I’m in my work place (usually a café somewhere - I like the hubbub), and even when I don’t appear to be writing, my subconscious is hard at it.
|Jay gets bored if I go several days without writing.|
I have to assume that the people who asked about my process were really asking what I could offer them to help them write more or better (or at all). I’m sure there are writers whose "processes" are as convoluted as mine, and I’m sure there are writers who are organized and logical and linear as they go about their work.
So here’s my advice if you want to write. Three simple steps.
- Read everything you can. Read about writing and read all kinds of writing. Read writing you love and writing you don’t love and learn from all of it.
- Try different approaches to the work, different environments, different schedules, until you discover what works for you. This is creative work, so be creative about how you do it.
- Write. Write. Write.
Sheila W. Boneham, Ph.D., is the author of the forthcoming "Animals in Focus" mystery Drop Dead on Recall as well as award-winning books about pets including Rescue Matters! How to Find, Foster, and Rehome Companion Animals (Alpine, 2009), The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting and Owning a Cat (Alpha, 2005), and fifteen others. Sheila's books are available from your local bookseller and on line. Learn more at www.sheilaboneham.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sheilawrites.
All images other than casserole copyright by Sheila Boneham. Casserole from iStockphoto.com. Watercolor painting "Pewter and Cherries" copyright Sheila Boneham.
*This post originally ran March 1, 2012, on Inkspot, a joint blog by authors published by Midnight Ink.
Event Notice!Sheila will be speaking this evening in Wilmingotn, NC. Event is sponsored by the Southeast Regional Group of the North Carolina Writers' Network.
4418 Park Avenue, Wilmington
Free and open to the public. 7-8:30.
"The End" is Just the Beginning: Creative Ways to Promote Your Book - You’ve wrapped up the writing. Your editor has sent you comments, and you’ve responded, revised, and polished. Your book is going to press. You may be tempted to think your work here is done – time to sit back and wait for the royalties to roll in. Not so quick! Whether your book is published by a small specialty press, a publishing giant, or little ol’ you, if you want your book to sell, your work is just beginning. As the author of 20 books published by 4 different commercial presses, award-winning author Sheila Boneham has learned a few things about creative promotion over the past 14 years. She has done book signings in unlikely places, attracted nearly 7,000 followers to the Facebook page for one of her books, and this spring raised over $2,200 for two NFPs while promoting her new series. This fall she is planning an innovative launch for her mystery, Drop Dead on Recall, including a signing at the biggest dog show in the Midwest (and many other place)! Sheila will pick several participants’ books for group brainstorming. Whether your work is chosen or not, you’ll walk out with new ideas, and Sheila will get back to writing and all that other crazy stuff.