Process Notes

There is nothing more dangerous to a blog than a writer who has rediscovered writing, for all they want to do is run around going “look, look, check it out, I produce actual words,” and tell you about in exhaustive detail. I constantly have to resist the urge to be an over-excited writer-puppy and move on this week, purely because I’m still on a word-high from doing shit. I try to burn it off by slapping on some Goldfrapp and shimmying my ass around the office, but the word-high is still there.

And, in truth, I don’t really want it to go away.

I mean, cards on the table time, my real goal has always been to be a prolific writer rather than a good writer. Good’s something to aspire to, sure, but given the choice between writing one perfect story a year or eight stories that would be good enough to be published and enjoyed, I’d totally take the latter. On the occasions when I revisit my writing goals and plans, the phrase take over the damn world is always pretty damn high up the list. Not that I want to rule anything – that shit takes work, and there’s politics – but it’s a useful short-hand for my desire to be everywhere. When I make plans, I plan big – often far too big, all things considered, but there is so much I want to do, it’d be nice to have the opportunity to get it all done.

That’s the ambition, and a shiny thing it is. On a good day it burns inside me and keeps me warm and convinced me that I should probably keep typing even though it’s 11:39 in the evening and I’ve already had a micro-nap or two while getting through the last five hundred words. The ambition looks out on the writing world and sees the possibilities and says, persistently, I want, I want, I want. Feed it any success, even just a little, and it can keep me going for a quite a while. Give it some momentum and I become a happy man, buoyed by the feeling of everything being right with the world.

At the same time, I’m a goddamn lazy writer. I don’t say this to engender sympathy, simply as an acknowledgement of my own inner workings. I’m a lazy writer. Given the choice between working and not-working, I will frequently choose the later. Any attempt to be prolific runs up against my natural state of inertia, driven by The Fear and a natural love of indolence. The same passion for narrative that leads me to write can also be assuaged by consumption, or by running RPG games whose sole audience in a small group of players.

When you couple that with the ability to rationalise on an Olympic level, and things get very messy very fast. I can justify almost anything as a useful part of my writing process, which will frequently sustain me until I’ve spent six weeks in my underwear, flaked out in front of the television, eating chips and utterly failing to write anything.

Or I get a day job, work it, and the writing slowly eases its way off the agenda. I worked out that I’ve now had a day job, more or less continuously, for approximately 20 months straight. It’s been a remarkably productivity-free 20 month period, too.

The internal monologue that results in these two impulses going at it makes for some interesting times, but it’s also why I become eternally fascinated by goal-setting, process, and the fastidious work-ethics of other writers. I can spend hours reading how other people write, what their daily structures are like, how they produce what they produce. I read stuff like Chuck Wendig’s daily writing routine or Michael Moorcock’s process for writing a novel in three days, and I seize upon them as solutions for doing more. Tools for reaching the long term goal and feeding the ambition.

Interestingly, there’s research coming out that suggests there are very different benefits to focusing on the goal versus the experience. Goals spur us to action, they make us interested in pursing an activity and seeing a place in the distant future where we’ve achieved, rather than chased. The real secret to keeping on is to focus on the process, the actual experience of putting words on the page and the pleasure of completing an individual story. Revel in what you’re doing, rather than where you’re going.

Admittedly, this is just the one study, which doesn’t have the benefit of wide-scale sampling, but it does kind of match up to my own experiences. The times when I’ve had the easiest time with a writing routine is usually when I’m posting about the work, and the things surrounding the work, rather than the times when I focus on the long-term and fall of the horse within a few weeks.

I guess this blog post is really a kind of fair-warning to readers: I plan on indulging the word-high a little more than I have in the past. When I’ve had a good week writing, I plan on revelling in it.

  1 comment for “Process Notes

  1. 04/08/2012 at 5:44 PM

    The real secret to keeping on is to focus on the process, the actual experience of putting words on the page…

    I find that a mixture works for me, both of enjoying the process of writing the story (or editing it, fine-tuning it to make it do what I want) and keeping in mind the long-term goal (take over the world) or the medium-term goal (get the story printed for other people to read). I love that almost every day I sit down to write, I discover something new about the story. I also make sure to look around at what else is being published and remember that I want to get out there as well.

    After all, two motivations are better than one, right?

    Anyway, looking forward to much reveling in good-writing weeks!

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