Process, Part I

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I’ve finished somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty books. A good proportion of those are on the shelves. Yet, every time I sit down to write, it’s still a struggle. I still have the long shoal of “nobody will like this, it’s going to be shit, everyone will hate me” and the “Oh GOD why won’t this BOOK just DIE stabstabstab” and the terrible nerves before every release and the same jolt of pain when I read an awful review. I keep thinking time will mute the sting or that I’ll figure out how to do this whole thing without the emotional cost, but so far, I haven’t.

I wonder if any writer ever does. Certainly none of the ones I’ve spoken to have ever admitted it to me.

The last Kismet book has been a slog so far. It broke free this week, and I have the sense of accumulating momentum which means I am going to finish, which I’d spent some terrible hours laying in bed in the dead of night doubting. During the day I’m much too busy to doubt, but sometimes at night…well, the night always has teeth. Every single book I’ve finished, published or not, I have doubted it. I doubted when I started, I doubted after the first flush of enthusiasm wore off and the slog set in, I doubted when I finished, I doubted while my agent read it, I doubted while the editors read it, I doubted through every fucking revision and I doubt now.

This is a huge part of the reason why, when I am asked to give advice, I begin and end with write every day.

I point out things like John Scalzi’s excellent Writing: Find The Time, Or Don’t of Suzanne Johnson’s Excuses, Excuses: Writer’s Block because I think they are good advice. Often, I am depressingly unsurprised at the number of comments such essays receive along the lines of, “But what about XYZ, which means some people don’t have TIME? You’re being unfaaaaair!” Or the ever-popular comment where someone takes what could be a good respectable daily wordcount and wastes it whining about how they don’t have time to write, but they have time to show the author of an essay the Error Of Their Ways. Or the “of course YOU have time to write, it’s your JOB!” I wish someone would have told me that when I was desperately working my ass off and going to school, writing in minute chunks filched from job, study, and sleep. It would have been nice to know that was optional instead of the struggle for survival I mistook it for.

I write every day because I must. (And partly because I’m afraid of what would happen to my brain if I didn’t.) The everyday habit gave me the stamina to get through my first finished book, and my second, and every other of the thirty-odd and counting. But it also did something incredibly important: it taught me about my process.

My process shares some commonalities with other writers’ processes, while being unique as every writer’s is. But at least I know what it is, now. It was a damn sight harder to finish a book when I couldn’t look at the other ones I’d finished and say, oh yeah, I remember this part where I think it fucking sucks and nobody will ever want it and I feel like crying. Yeah. I remember–this isn’t the end of the world–it’s a stage in the process. I’ll get over it. Those first few books were literally murder. The first time I finished a book and had a week of emotional wind-down I thought I was going insane. The second, I’d forgotten all about the first–but by the third, I was starting to grasp the fact that there was an emotional cost to what I was doing, and I needed time to deal with the snapback. Which means today, I can schedule in time for the snapback to occur, and let it happen.

Just like I can tell myself, of course you feel like you want to quit. You always do at this part of the process. Keep going.

I am a firm believer in the truism that one doesn’t know how to write a novel, one can only guess how to get through the novel one’s writing now. Each one’s different. But thankfully, the process will begin to be clear to you, and that process tends to change much more slowly than the novels do. Your own general process for successfully finishing a novel (or a short story, an essay, a poem, what have you) is something you can plan for, anticipate, fine-tune, and generally learn how to work your way around.

But you can’t do that anticipating if you don’t know your process, you cannot know your process if you don’t finish anything, and you stand a much better chance of finishing something if you write every day. I say every day, knowing full well that for experienced writers there may be days off, when the mental work of building the story is happening but not much occurs with the fingers on the keyboard. I say every day, knowing full well that I could be wishy-washy and say “regularly” and hopefully avoid some of the “but I CAN’T!” that seems to pop up in the comments of posts like this. I say “every day” even though I know as soon as I say it, someone will pipe up with “but my process is different and I’m published!” and that’s OK. I say “every day” even though I know, my God do I know, Life Happens, things happen, and you may be called away from writing by an emergency.

I say this because if one says, “Write regularly” you can write once every six months and consider that “regularly” and you might die of old age before you get close to producing publishable work. I say it because I consider it to be the reason why my career is as (moderately) successful as it is. I say it because I consider that discipline crucial if you want to write for a living. I say it because I can have the rule of “write every day” and have occasional Emergencies that I am flexible enough to accommodate, but the needle of habit, discipline, and need gets me back up on the horse as soon as possible after the dust has cleared. Telling myself “write every day” is a foundation that makes it possible for me to even recognize I have a process.

Next week I’m going to talk a little more nuts and bolts about my particular process. But I want it to be absolutely clear that I consider the commitment to everyday writing as a precondition to recognizing one has a process early enough for it to do any bloody good. I firmly and fervently believe that writing every day gives you the chance to find your process before you get frustrated and decide you’d rather do something else with your time. Which is fine and well and good if that’s what you choose, but if I can point out a stumbling block and what I think is the best way around it, well, I will.

So. That’s out of the way. Next week, we’ll get nitty-gritty about just what my process entails.

Over and out.

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