Books by Melissa Bowersock

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Myth of Process

Recently I wrote a post for Indies Unlimited on the Myth ofEditing, wherein I talked about the sometimes false perception that publishing with a traditional publisher will include patient, nurturing, professional editing (which was far from my own experience). The mostly indie crowd supported my position, although a few had contrasting thoughts to add. The post was picked up by ThePassive Voice a couple days later and the discussion there got kicked up quite a few notches as writers of all stripes weighed in, some fully supportive, some disagreeing in no uncertain terms. It made for a lively discussion for sure, as writers get very passionate and emotional about this issue of editing.
One thing I noticed, however, was the tendency that many have to prescribe the writer’s process to very rigid terms.

“Authors cannot edit their own work.”

“You cannot write and edit at the same time.”

Even Ernest Hemingway’s famous line, “The first draft of anything is shit.”

As always, I beg to differ.

I believe there is a very broad range of writers, from the crayon-wielding bohemian to the broomstick-up-the-ass perfectionist. Coming from such different mindsets and experiences, it makes sense that what works for one writer may not work for another. At least it does for me.

Yet I still see people trying to herd us all into one big regulated group. Sorry; not going to happen.

And as always, I draw on my own personal experience.

Perhaps it was growing up with a father who was an artist that set me on my solitary and individual ways. My father worked as a commercial artist for an architectural firm, rendering by hand the projects the firm proposed to build. Painting corporate headquarters and mini-malls was not exactly inspiring work, but in his free time, my father would return again and again to the natural world that was his real passion. Landscapes and the wild animals that inhabited them were my father’s first love, and he would spend weekends exploring the back roads of California with his sketchbook, then every evening he’d be at his drawing board, fleshing out the sketches he had made until his subjects came to life. His work was featured by several galleries around the country, selling quickly, sometimes to people who had collections of his work, so those gallery owners were always anxious to get more. It was a satisfying, productive process that my father reveled in.
Sycamore by Howard L. Munns

And you know what? I do not ever remember him ever asking anyone to critique or edit his work.

I do not remember any gallery owner ever asking him to revise a painting or rework a landscape.

He painted what he loved; he painted the ideas that came to him in the best possible way, and if he was happy with the way they turned out, he sold them. If he wasn’t, he didn’t.

Unfortunately, I did not inherit his talent for drawing and painting. Fortunately, whatever talent I did inherit expresses itself comfortably in words. And my process is very similar to his.

I get an idea; I write the book. I edit as I go, laying my foundation carefully and building each sentence on the one before. By the time I finish my “first draft,” I am 95 to 98% done. At that point, I will do a thorough read-through, do some tweaking, then send it out to beta-readers. As my readers are doing their jobs, I will release the book from my mind and allow it to lie fallow until the feedback comes in. Then, with a fresh perspective, I will go through the feedback and suggestions, weigh them against my heartfelt sense of the story, make changes if necessary … and I’m done.

I’m sure some people out there are having apoplectic fits right about now. You edit as you write? You don’t do rewrites? You don’t hire an editor? Oh, the blasphemy!

My first five books, which were all published by traditional publishers (both a NY house and some small presses), never saw anyone’s red pen except mine. One publisher out of all of those made suggestions to me—three suggestions. Everything else was published verbatim.

Am I suggesting writers do as I do? No; I am suggesting writers find their own process. Find what works for you. Find what feeds your soul and helps you produce satisfying results. Read books and blogs and literary advice—or not. Study the craft—or not. Take classes and attend conferences—or not. Hire an editor and enlist beta-readers—or not. And write. And write.

And write.

That’s the only part that really applies to all of us.

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