Thursday, April 8, 2010

Process 1

Trust your process.

You have to trust your process once you figure out what it is. It’s not easy to trust your process because every writer faces moments in a manuscript when process might be blamed for any number of unfortunate situations. You might claim, for instance, that it was process that led you right into a brick wall or off a cliff or into an imperfect storm, earthquake or any one of the many threatening, potentially fatal, disasters out there. “Trust my process?” You might scream. “Are you bleeping crazy?”

My first process was certainly untrustworthy in every sense. It was crazy. I’d write ninety or so pages and start over and then I’d write 180 pages and start over and then I’d write 270 pages and start over. This drafting my way to a longer and longer novel was the only way I could get a real draft done and it was ridiculous and painful and nerve-wracking but by its end I did have a draft and that draft could be rewritten and revised extensively and at the end of that I did have a book. (You think this sounds rough,I have a writer who writes a complete draft and throws the whole thing away and starts completely over without looking back at that first draft. For her, it works. It would drive me a little crazy, but you have to trust what works for you.)

My process now is less crazy for me: I draft for several drafts still, but I manage to finish a complete rough one ( with some chapters unfinished and others marked with outlines) before starting a second draft, third draft etc...

Still, I always hit that wall when it all seems wrong. I know I have to work through it now. I know I have to trust that this is how I write, and no matter how bad it seems at the time if I push through I can eventually make it to a place where I can rewrite and revise and eventually have a book.

A lot of people want to write, a lot start a novel. A lot of people. Only a few ever finish one. If you’ve finished a manuscript, congratulations because that’s a big accomplishment. You’re in the minority right there. Everyone who’s finished a manuscript knows there are times when it all seems wrong, when it seems best to start something new or burn the whole thing. But in most cases, if you can just see past those moments, keep pushing forward, eventually you will have pages that can be rewritten and revised into a finished manuscript. You have to trust your process.

9 comments:

Indigo said...

I'm getting there. My problem seems to be thinking the first draft in itself worthy. I'm 'finally' learning to get the story on the page, call it a first, and refine, refill, backstory and detail crazy the 2nd, 3rd and even 4th draft.

And oh yeah, it's as crazy as that last sentence sounds. Thing is it would work. Yep, said 'would'. I'm nuts about details and it's a hard lesson to pound in my head. First draft is always story, everything else comes later.(Hugs)Indigo

Christina Lee said...

good thoughts. Makes me feel more normal. thanks!

Amy Kathleen Ryan said...

Wow, thanks for this. I'm in a bit of a rut right now. I've got sequel-itis. This helps me feel a little better.

Yat-Yee said...

This is such an excellent way of thinking. And thanks for sharing that the process does eventually get less nutty more efficient.

Thanks for this. I am in the middle of a stuck revision and now I just need to take a couple of breaths and go back to doing what I know how to do, and trust that it will lead me forward, even if it seems to lead me nowhere, or worse, further back than when I started.

brian yansky said...

Thanks for all the thoughtful comments.

Jeff Hirsch said...

Good post Bryan. I think it's great to note how process can evolve over time. I used to be a die hard seat of my pants writer, but now necessity as well as inclination is pushing me towards plotting things out a bit more. It's good to know what your process is, also good to know it can change.

brian yansky said...

Thanks, Jeff. And congrats on the recent book deal. I was talking to Sara last week, and she was saying how great your manuscript is.

Andrea said...

Interesting discussion, Brian. My own writing process has undergone some changes in the last year, and I consider it a huge breakthrough to have stopped continually starting at the beginning and rewriting the first draft before I even know the ending. I think it's much harder to revise something that is already fairly polished (but may have a crappy plot).

brian yansky said...

Andrea,

Interesting. It's always fun to hear how other people work. Everyone has their own unique process. I once interviewed Sherman Alexie and he said he always, when writing a novel, had the last sentence of his novel before he started. Then he wrote to the last sentence. Sounds good but I would keep changing my last sentence probably.