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A Different Way of Doing Things... Part Three: Process

Writing and reading are processes.

That might sound obvious to you, but 17 years as a teacher taught me that it isn’t obvious to many. Many teenagers have a hard time not living in the moment; they tend to take each minute as it comes and don’t see that there is a past that they are emerging from and a future into which they are heading. It was difficult, then, for me to get them to appreciate the process of writing an essay, or planning something out with an end product in mind.

It’s the same for many readers: they read fiction page by page, while tending to fixate on the scene or ‘moment’ that they are in. Most allow themselves to be guided along in this way until the final ‘moment’, at which point all the accumulated power of the story (if it’s any good) is supposed to bowl them over. A few readers are a little more aware of what is being done to them and with them, and are more observant of the process.

Unfortunately, the same applies to many writers. They write the ‘bit’ that they write, and often don’t quite see what it is emerging from or heading towards. Many have no clear idea of where a piece if fiction is aiming. ‘Pantsing’, as they call it, is of course completely fine and many thrive on the unknowns it throws before them, finding that their creativity flows and finds ways around, up and over these blanks until a story takes shape; some try this and fail: the story merely wanders and doesn’t succeed in holding the reader or producing any kind of emotional effect. Writing like this remains largely unconscious and dependent on a large amount of luck.

Once a writer sees more clearly that there is a process and that it consists of distinct elements, wonderful things can happen.

When it comes to establishing a career as a writer, this lack of perception of process can get even worse.

The default model — writing and writing and writing and chasing calls for submissions and fielding rejections and basically feeling like prey rather than predator in the scheme of things, even down to having one’s work ‘eaten’ by publishers for no pay — is not really a process, except for the publisher, who capitalises on writers’ desperate needs to be published to make money for himself or herself.

What writers need are processes that work for them. Instead of being at the effect point of decisions made and opportunities created by publishers, they need channels and approaches which place them at cause over this whole scene.

When writing a story, some writers, it’s true, allow their characters to ‘take them for a ride’ and see where they end up. But in terms of establishing a writing career, too many writers are being ‘taken for a ride’ and where they end up is unsatisfied and years later still unviable as writers.

This needs to change.

Last time, we looked at writing as a business — not in terms of offices, tax forms, boring meetings and all the rest of it, but as something that exists to provide something of value to the world in exchange for money. A business thrives on process. Operating a business is largely a matter of developing and constantly improving processes to increase profits. One envisages a product and then works out a series of steps needed to produce that product.

Writing can be the same: one has an ending in mind, then creates a series of scenes leading up to that ending. That’s ‘planning’ as opposed to ‘pantsing’.

So to get out of the trap of the default model and into a whole new game, that’s what we need to do: picture a goal and develop a line that leads towards that goal.

The goal is the writer in charge of his or her own work, able to attract clients who want that work, and to get paid for that work.

Sounds almost strange, doesn’t it? We’re so used to thinking of it the other way round. Surely, it’s the publisher who is in charge, who offers opportunities and who attracts the writers? Surely it’s the publisher who gets paid, and the writer is the client who gets the ‘product’ of a piece of work in print?

It’s a definite mind-shift to see the writer at the centre.

You wouldn’t be doing whatever the publisher says like an individual selling their time in the default model, you’d be leading publishers through your proven process. And they would hire you because your process is tried and true.

Starting to get the idea…?

More to come.


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