Writing is a craft. As with most crafts, the one who undertakes to write must also learn to construct a business around the art of writing—and though the amount of time spent writing maybe greater, the attention and care with which one builds a business must be equal to the professionalism that one brings to the craft itself.
This facet of being a writer has dogged me for years now.
One area of growth for me—even now in 2018—is in the process of sharing, which constitutes a major part of the framework of building a business. I have generally found difficulty in putting myself out there, so to speak, in a consistent and repeatable way. So I found it fascinating and very telling when I stumbled upon this blog post from 2015, which I never shared with anyone. More than three years later, my observations and ruminating from that time feel as timely as ever. Much has changed, and yet I feel as though much remains the same for me in the challenges of storytelling, in the craft of fiction, and perhaps most of all, in the science of building a business.
So, in the interests of getting better at sharing, and of flexing the muscle that empowers me to put myself out there, please enjoy this temporal snapshot of your friend Alejandro, circa January 2015.
I’m at the park – one of San Francisco’s many fabulous parks – with countless dogs running and playing off leash, and breathtaking scenery. I’ve been procrastinating this afternoon, speaking with a Presidio wildlife conservation specialist instead of starting this blog post or editing my novella (Bavarian Birdsong—unpublished) which is near completion as of this writing.
I’m in no real position to write as an authority on the craft of writing. Though my undergraduate study may lend some credibility, I have done exactly nothing in my career to date that would merit an authentic contribution to the corpus of knowledge on the craft. That said, I intend to start a discussion just the same.
Writing is categorically different from the kind of work I have done over the last decade and a half. I work in the software industry, where planning is a critical component of any successful product launch. Even products built using the latest and most lightweight planning frameworks (lean, agile, etc.) live and die through careful planning. So, I recognize the importance of planning. In other areas of life however, I have found planning to be far less meaningful. I abhor schedules and fixed routine (with a few exceptions) and I crave spontaneity and adventure in each day. I didn’t plan on writing a story. It just sort of came to me, went away for a while, and then came back to me a different day several months later.
I had the idea for my first story – the novella I’m close to publishing – early in 2014. But I didn’t begin writing it until nearly 6 months later. I conceived the idea, then shelved it, then came back to it without any sort of plan in mind. I arranged things in my life in such a way that I could afford to take this time, but there have been costs as a result (that I may discuss in a later post). Without any sort of plan, I have written by the seat of my pants, you may say. It hasn’t been easy, although it certainly has been joyous. What I really want to talk about is that for my next project I intend to bring a little more strategy into the process.
Since beginning this journey, I have discovered truths about myself that I either did not know, or had forgotten. I actually love to write. I genuinely enjoyed writing in school, at least on the projects that germinated in my own brain. (Others’ ideas were sometimes less savory.) One of my favorite projects was a twist on the three blind mice nursery rhyme. I developed a story based on the characters as if they lived in pre-Bolshevik Russia. Two of the brothers had fled Russia for Brazil and were leading a resistance group there, while the third brother led the resistance in Russia. When read aloud with a Russian accent, the story was quite fun. Writing it was fun. Indeed, I enjoy the craft.
Finding the motivation to write again was not an issue. Dealing with distractions, however, did become an issue, because well, let’s face it: I work at a computer every day. And sitting at a computer, developing a design, implementing this part of that website, and then transitioning over to expunging my creative guts into a storyline using a word processor became difficult, because of the monotony I suppose. I found it incredibly distracting to write this way. On top of that was the fact that I have a little dog (who was actually a major part of the genesis of my current project, to be discussed in a future post), who requires letting out for lengthy walks. You can imagine how distracting that is.
I needed a solution.
Now, I consider myself an early adopter of some forms of technology. One of my absolute favorite innovations of the last ten years is speech-to-text recognition. For years, I have used my phone to compose text messages, emails, status updates and more using this under-utilized innovation. The realization that I could author an entire story using speech-to-text technology hit me like a haymaker. That same day, I was out at one of San Francisco’s many fabulous parks, recording my story into Evernote – punctuation, quote marks, and all.
Since then, the writing process has been deeply inspirational. I surround myself with nature, allow my dog to roam free in these grand parks, and write. As I get closer to the completion of the 1st/2nd draft, I’m finding some internal resistance. I don’t want this phase to end. I want to keep visiting parks and allowing the creative juices to flow. However, it is just about time for me to shift focus on to promoting the story and preparing for the launch, and this work does require an actual computer. I would love to just keep writing, but at some point this has to turn into something that can generate revenue, otherwise those parks that I love to frequent may become my actual home.
As I think about my next project, I feel compelled to plan for the eventual shift that must occur in order to publish something successfully.
How much time should one allocate to the initial drafting process? I feel this is an open-ended question, best left to circumstance. Stephen King, in ‘on writing,’ promotes spending three or four hours per day spewing one’s guts onto the page. This seemed to be a good number for me, one which I landed on rather accidentally. Three or four hours was just about the maximum amount of time my little dog, who is aging, could take wandering around San Francisco’s gorgeous parks. So, depending on the scope of the work, I’ll try to give myself this amount of time every day, for as long as it takes for me to produce a respectable chunk of work. This leaves plenty of time for plying my trade as a designer, which allows me to live in one of the most expensive cities in the world. But I have to plan that at some point, the open-ended nature of the work will end, and it will be time to apply a more rigorous strategy to the writing process. Take time away from the initial draft (six weeks, according to Mr. King). Show it to someone very close to me. Expand that reach ever so slightly to cull initial feedback. Weigh the feedback and implement as I see fit. Then it’s time to send the work for real editing. And while the editing is happening, this will be the time to generate all the other content that supports launching the book: A website, videos of readings, literary reviews, in-store readings, and more—maybe a bi-monthly blog post, and some creative, shareable moments i can publish on social media.
The time required by a professional to edit the work will vary with the length of the work itself, of course, but this is far and away the best time to focus on promotion. Before launch—and after the vast majority of heavy lifting has been done in writing. Of course, the work will come back with proposed changes. This is my first project, so I’m no expert here. But I feel as though there are many pitfalls during this phase. Getting too precious about the work might block an author from integrating valuable changes as proposed by an editor. The same precious emotional attachment can also lead one to delve back into the material in a way that often sabotages completion. In other words, you re-explore and reopen plot lines and passages in a way that can make your story start to feel like Pandora’s box. One of the biggest challenges ahead for me may be discerning between genuine investment in honing the work, and over-investing by becoming too precious. I hope to discover a strategy to ensure I am doing the former more than the latter.
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Are you a writer? What is your process for reviewing and editing your work when it has come back from a professional? How do you avoid following rabbit holes that lead nowhere, once you’ve completed so much exploration – exhausted so many possibilities – during the first draft? Drop me a line and let me know your thoughts.
Writing, creating, sharing