I had something of a revelation today. In the course of wasting time (AKA avoiding writing), I found a link on my Facebook feed to a blog post by speculative author Jamie Todd Rubin. He’s spent the past year documenting his writing stats via a very smart Google analytics tool, which allowed him to write a post detailing the idea-to-publication path of one of his short stories. You can read the entire post here.
I’ve always been interested in the various ways authors approach creating fiction, and particularly how they edit a draft to the point of being ready to submit it to markets. Mr. Rubin’s post details his entire process, from first concept to final sale (though even he admits the sale part was something of a fluke in its expediency, but still!).
The thing that really caught me and has stuck with me all day, however, is that his process is almost identical to mine in the following ways: 1) Ideas tend to take a while to develop into something I can tackle on paper, 2) In the rewriting process, I also like to retype entire manuscripts from scratch in new documents to preserve “continuity,” and 3) I also save almost every scrap of text I cut out of a document (particularly when it comes to longer works, but sometimes for short works too).
I think this made a particular impression on me because here is a living, breathing example of someone whose process is very similar to the one I’ve scraped together over the years, and who has found some good success with it. This is not to say that my ideas are as good as his, or even that I’m anywhere near the craft-level that he is, but I’m delighted that the process itself isn’t unique to me. I often think too much about how I go about composing fiction and whether or not I’m “doing it wrong” (whatever that means) or wasting needless time. Because I’m still such a newbie at it, it’s hard to separate whether or not it’s my idea or the process that hangs me up when a story isn’t working/isn’t getting finished. Should I draft faster? Should I spend the time to retype the whole draft while I edit, or is that just spinning my procrastination wheels? And so forth, and so on.
I’ve tried numerous other processes throughout my writing apprenticeship, but none have felt as native to me as taking my time to let ideas percolate and then redrafting by retyping every sentence for a new draft. The anxiety that comes from trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t for me as a writer can just as easily hang me up as a bad plot point. I’m hell-bent on efficiency and productivity (probably too much), and because of that, I don’t think I’ve trusted my gut enough to “Trust the Process” as I’ve read in so many books on writing. Which process? Is there a better one? How can I tell?
Reading Mr. Rubin’s blog post has, oddly enough, relieved me of some of that burden and left me feeling a bit more confident. The process that I naturally gravitate towards does work, at least for some successful writers. I don’t have to worry that I’m accidentally stifling myself by producing fiction in this way, or that I’m “not good enough” because when I get an idea, I have to let it percolate for a while before doing something with it. The process is functional, which means I can let go of that stressor and focus on what really matters: the writing and the ideas and the craft. It’s strangely liberating.
Now whether my noveling process is functional or not is another question entirely, but not a concern for today! :)