Romancing the Process

It's interesting how much writers talk about what their process is when approaching a new book. Go to any place where writers are talking and there will be a thread about people who are "by the seat of their pants" types vs  those who do lots of outlining and planning before heading out, vs people who do some sort of mix. You'll hear, "I do this in draft one, then do this in draft 2, finally saving this for draft 3." It's all interesting, seeing how different folks approach the same thing, but I've recently been thinking alot about how establishing a writing process can not necessarily be a good thing. Maybe that sounds crazy. Let me explain. With my first book, Long Walk Home, I wrote the first draft very quickly with little to no advance planning. I plowed ahead and I didn't look back. I told myself that this way I was constantly surprising myself, that figuring out the story so it was neat and tidy in my head before writing it would somehow blunt my drive to actually write the book itself. It would blunt my creativity too, by not allowing for happy surprises along the way.

I remembered hearing about a famous sculptor (Michelangelo?) who said that his process was to look at an unfinished  piece of stone and simply remove whatever was not the sculpture. I decided that this was my process too, the only difference being I had to make that stone first,  in all of it's raw chaotic possibility, and then start chipping away at it.

This is how you write a book, I told myself, and I felt good and writery for having thought all of this through and arrived at The Way I Work. (Cue triumphal horns)

I think you can see the danger here. Obviously,  I was seriously romanticizing the process--I mean, I was invoking Michaelangelo for Christ's sake--but what I was also doing was setting the process in stone, as if I had discovered some kind of formula for writing. Do this and this and this in this order and you get a book.

Now, I think this is incredibly tempting because as writers we live in a constant state of uncertainty, (Will I keep having ideas? Will I be able to write tomorrow like I did today? Will it get published? If it gets published will anyone buy it?) and any little bit of solid ground we can make ourselves is an incredible relief. It feels good to say "This is how I do it." It feels good to think that there is this one thing, your process, that you can count on, that's a road you can follow.

The thing is I think it's, mostly anyway, an illusion. You change. Your writing changes. Your needs change. And it think it's important to remember that your process sometimes needs to change in order to account for these things.

What I'm saying is, don't set your process in stone. Don't romanticize it. Don't make it who you are. Do things that work for you but don't forget to listen to yourself and your instincts. If you are a seat of the pants type writer and something is telling you it might help to plan a little, or alot, don't let your ideas about process trap you. Same if you're a planner. If you think you need to be let go a bit, do it. Be flexible.

The way I'm writing my second book is totally different from the way I did my first. I'm planning things out a lot more. I'm doubling back and fixing things before I move on. I'm discovering some things in the moment. It was weird at first and I totally second guessed myself about it (this is not the way you do things)  but I guess I realized that I don't know the way I write a book because I don't think there is a way that doesn't change to meet my needs and the needs of the book. I wish there was, I'd love more solid ground, but I think the reality is that I'm always figuring it out as I go and in a way that may be, at least for me, the best way to do it. And that could change tomorrow.

What do you guys think? Have you come to a set process that doesn't change? If so, how did you get there? Does it change according to project?