Two Links and a Brief and Burning Question
for You Authors Out There

h1 October 23rd, 2007 by jules

{Note: Please see the post below this one for today’s Robert’s Snow schedule —
and Yuyi Morales’ kickin’ ’07 snowflake}

First, the two links:

* * * Head on over to Anne Boles Levy’s Book Buds today, ’cause she’s posting a Q&A with none other than Jane Yolen for a cause she’s promoting. She’s Children’s Ambassador for the Winterthur Museum in Delaware and is hosting a contest for children to write their own ABC books. As Anne put it yesterday, it’s “not some measly, peasly bloggy giveaway, either, but one sponsored by a museum with a gala dinner thrown in.” Woot!

* * * Secondly, have you all seen Alkelda’s new Spinning Wheel series? I have to take a moment to point out how rockin’ it is. It’s a series of interviews she has begun — her own original series, that is — of children’s musicians. If you are someone who cares about good, doesn’t-make-you-want-to-gag, non-Barney-esque music for children, then it’s a great resource (as well as Warren Truitt’s Children’s Music That Rocks, a colleague of Betsy Bird’s at the New York Public Library). If you visit Saints and Spinners and look on the right of Alkelda’s blog’s template, you’ll see the musicians she’s interviewed so far (under “Spinning Wheel Interviews”). Today she interviews Eric Ode. Here’s the link. Enjoy!

Now, my Brief and Burning Question
for You Authors Out There (if you’ve made it this far):

At the Southern Festival of Books a couple weeks ago here in Nashville, I heard author/illustrator/novelist Rosemary Wells speak briefly. She said — and I quote this exactly — “process doesn’t exist. Any good writer will tell you that.”

What say you, authors? As someone who likes to talk to authors and author/illustrators about their writing process (though fellow Southerner Gwenda is the queen of this), I found that an interesting statement. But then, I’m not a writer. If you are, what do you think? Do tell. We Blog Nerds who love to read and read about writing would love to know.

Addendum: This was very much a parenthetical, quicky side comment as she was telling us that — after showing us slides of her space at home where she works as an artist (which was great) — she would talk about her novel. I didn’t hear her entire talk, so I missed some about the novel-writing. She might have delved into process — or the lack of it — there, though I believe she was planning on mostly talking about her Civil War research. Part of what makes this a good question for authors is the open-ended nature of it. I, in no way, mean to imply that Wells was being insensitive.

Also, here’s a great response for you, a glimpse into an author’s brain on the tricky nature of process.

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33 comments to “Two Links and a Brief and Burning Question
for You Authors Out There”

  1. Here ya go, Miss Jules: http://saralewisholmes.blogspot.com/2007/10/process-and-meaning-of-it-all.html

    FYI: I have so many books on other writers and artists processes that my bookshelves are sagging. And I also love to write about process myself. But perhaps she meant: there is no ONE process. No step by step. No shortcuts.


  2. Sounds to me like Wells is an anarchist. And/or disingenuous. And/or she mis-spoke, and what she meant to say is that there’s no single process that works for all writers. Or, if she’s correct, then I’m not a good writer (and I have my concerns about that), and neither are most of the writers I know, including the ones with award-winning books.

    There are folks with rigid schedules (see Walter Dean Myers, who spoke about his process at a keynote at the LA SCBWI conference this year), and folks who are more free-flow, but they have other bits of process. Maybe they take a walk and think about their work before they start. Maybe they blog or free write as a warm-up. Maybe they create a collage with pictures and other items on it to represent each of their main characters, or sketch a scene before they write it. Maybe they outline (loosely or highly detailed); maybe they don’t. But ALL of writing is a process, in my opinion.


  3. So… you were there, and heard the context. Do you have any idea what she meant by that?


  4. That might be the question to answer — what did Wells mean by “process?” It’s all process, imo, even the bits that happen when a manuscript is out of your hands. Maybe Wells’ was referring to the idea of a rigid process for each writer?

    My “process,” in case you wondered, is pretty flexible. It has to be, what with the kids and the jobs and life. I recommend it for no one other than me.


  5. I certainly don’t for one second mean to imply that Rosemary Wells is disingenuous. And, Lynne, it was very much a parenthetical, quicky side comment as she was telling us that — after showing us slides of her space at home where she works as an artist (which was great) — she would talk about her novel.

    I didn’t hear her entire talk, so I missed some about the novel-writing. She might have delved into it more there, though I believe she was planning on mostly talking about her Civil War research. Part of what makes this a good question for authors is the open-ended nature of it, though I don’t mean to make Wells look Some Kind of a Jerk, ’cause I’m sure she’s not. I have great respect for Rosemary Wells.

    I bet anything that what she meant is what Kelly and Adrienne and Sara are saying: that there isn’t one single process that works for everyone. But, who knows. I’m interested in authors’ thoughts on it.

    Off to read Sara’s link.


  6. (Fineman – dude. We were SO in the same conference meetings, yet I STILL didn’t meet you. I’m pathetic!)

    Jules, I actually brought up WDM and a few others in my post today — I wanted to write about writing today, and this question was a really nice prompt. Thank you.

    Yes, Virginia: there is a writing process. Probably eighteen million of them, shifting hourly…


  7. Why can’t I finish a piece of writing, identify the path I took to get from beginning to end, and then duplicate that process the next time? There are bits ‘n pieces of the process I rely on, but those pieces never seem to stay in the same order – not even Step One. I wonder if that’s also part of what Rosemary Wells is talking about.

    jules – Thanks for pointing folks to Akelda’s blog.


  8. Okay, I am definitely making a point to see Rosemary Wells next time she comes to town. I’ve had two chances already, and I blew them off because I was “tired” or some such nonsense.:) A colleague of mine said that one of the first things Wells said at a speaking engagment once was that “If you can’t find the time to read to your child 20 minutes a day, you shouldn’t have bothered having one.” My respect for her shot up when I heard that.

    Thanks for putting in a plug for Spinning Wheel!I appreciate it. I also checked out Book Buds’ Q&A with Jane Yolen.


  9. Okay, so it was a casual throwaway– let’s hope. While I’d hate to be held responsible for every off-the-cuff comment I make, I’m tempted to make a few breathtaking statements of my own, all beginning with “ANY good writer will tell you…”


  10. I definitely agree that there is certainly no ONE process–every writer has to come to the one that works for them as an individual.

    On the larger question “is there such a thing as process?” my answer would tend to be that there’s pretty much ONLY process. Finished product is of secondary importance because it’s only as deep and wild and wonderful as your process. I don’t mean to imply anything about length of time here–I just mean that the level of creative investment in producing your work (to me, anyway) is directly correlated with the end result.

    Just my opinion, though!


  11. Sigh. So much good and harm can come from throw-away lines.

    First of all, I’m with all of you that there is no one process, just as there is no one writer. We all have our quirks and habits, and they are part of who we are and how we write.

    My process: Write my 3 hand-scrawled Morning Pages (a habit I learned from Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way). Walk the dogs. Eat oatmeal. Read the comics. Read some blogs (although I’ve been slacking on that lately with all the travel). Pack the dogs into the car and go for Starbucks. Then and only then can I start thinking about the writing part of my day. The dogs settle down to nap, and I settle down to work.

    That’s my process, but that’s just me. I hope and assume you all have your own.


  12. Thanks, Robin. That makes me feel a little better about the weirdness I posted today. I think my process involves tumbling things over and over, like one of those gem polishers that I let myself be talked into buying for my kids. (NOTE: never buy one. They are incredibly loud.) My process also involves a plain, spiral notebook, sitting somewhere other than my desk, and coffee.


  13. Of course there is a process or nothing would get done. Imagine if I didn’t use a process to fix dinner. Okay, my dinners don’t taste much better when I use a process (recipes, ingredients, Hamburger Helper). I consider myself a very creative person–I write children’s books and make art. Yet these things don’t just happen. Different projects require different processes. When I switch from one project to another, I switch processes as well.


  14. The biggest difficulty I have with pronouncements like this, off-the-cuff or not, is that they cause even more self-doubt in those writers who hear them– most especially young or emerging writers. And that is the last thing they need.
    For the same reason, I’m not as big a fan as Alkelda of the parenting/reading comment, although I agree that reading to our children is key. Most parents and most writers carry enough self-doubt for themselves and a small nation besides, without discovering yet another area in which they fail to measure up.

    For what it’s worth, Sara, I loved your post! It was funny and true and lighthearted. My motto: Rational Is Good, But Weird Is Better.


  15. Wait a minute, it just occurred to me–was I supposed to talk about the muse or something? And there I was just talking about Starbucks?

    I like Sara’s method of a plain, spiral notebook and coffee. I think anything we can do to take the pressure off–to get over thinking everything we write has to be Brilliant–is an important part of the process. Just wear your sweats and a tee, be all casual, and write as if you’re just writing for yourself and your best friend.


  16. Robin wrote: “Sigh. So much good and harm can come from throw-away lines.”

    See, now I look like this mischievous super-sleuth journalist who is out to get authors and take their throw-away comments and make a post out of it. I do wish I knew of someone else who stayed for the entire session and can tell me if she elaborated on that comment. (I had to leave to go locate an author who was in a session I was to be hosting, or I would have so stayed).

    But what a great comment to launch this great discussion which has happened here. And, based on what Alkelda said and what I saw at her talk, Wells likes to make bold statements. (For the record, I agree with Lynne about Wells’ why-bother-to-have-children line, even though I’m a huge advocate — obviously — of reading to your children. We mamas get all this pressure to be perfect, and comments like that just make it harder, though I know she means well, what with all her read-to-your-bunny efforts).

    So, even though Robin’s right, I hope this won’t make authors clam up and, uh, never speak around me. I just couldn’t pass up asking about this statement. So bold. So opinionated. So thrown out into the air with no apologies or self-consciousness. So striking. So made me go, “HUH? Interesting” and so made me wonder what other writers would think, especially as someone who will never be a novelist/author but loves to read about novelists/authors, how they work, and their, well, processes (!) . . . .


  17. And baaaack on task…
    Okay, Jules, since you want to know: today my process clearly involves 1)reading blogs, 2)posting incendiary comments, 3)avoiding writing at all costs, and 4)hoping my editor and agent don’t realize how I am wasting these golden hours in which I should be working In A Disciplined Manner, As Befits A Professional.

    There’s always tomorrow!


  18. Lynne, if it’s the Emmy sequel, then I’m sorry I distracted you, ’cause I can’t flippin’ wait to read it (and I say flippin’ on purpose, what with Jonathan Bean’s fabulous flip-book feature in the first one).


  19. Awww, thanks. But the sequel is done– this is a new one.
    And now back to work. In the end, that’s the most important piece of our process as writers– just getting back to it, no matter what.


  20. Rosemary likes to yank chains.

    My process is pretty simple. BIC. Butt in chair. FOK. Fingers on keys. Engage brain. Or bypass it. Let stories leak out of fingers onto keyboard. Print.

    Begin again.

    What I am not–not a planner, plotter, putterer. No P words. I do make occasional lists, I talk outloud to my characters, and I work every day. Except probably tomorrow. Tomorrow I am having an eye operation.

    Jane Yolen


  21. Jules, Jules, I’m not criticizing or faulting you AT ALL for the throw-away line bit. I’m so glad you posted it–it’s fun to talk about.

    What I was really sighing about is the fact that we writers love to hear inside tips from other writers we admire, and if someone like Charles Dickens wrote in the margins of his notebook, Memo to self: Eat more herring, I’d probably buy that disgusting stuff in a flash.

    It just cracks me up how impressionable we human writers are.

    Throw-away lines


  22. Robin, I know you weren’t criticizing. Just….well, wecome to my brain. It just suddenly occurred to me that I might look like this dastardly journalist, trying to stir up dirt or something.

    Herring? Stick to chocolate instead, I say.

    Jane, eye surgery? Yeesh. Good luck. Thanks for the comment (thanks, EVERYONE). I need to go read your Q & A at Book Buds where you might have already mentioned eye surgery, but it’s been one of those busy days.


  23. Two things work for me:

    1. thinking (while walking or in that glorious alpha state as you fall asleep or wake up)
    2. BIC (butt-in-chair, sit there and write until you figure it out!)


  24. By the way, Jules, I’m listening to “Raising Sand” by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, and am loving it. Thanks again for the recommendation.

    The “why bother having kids if you’re not going to read to them” (paraphrased) comment jolted me too, but I think Wells was definitely addressing the parents who have their children with the mind of them being accessories, not human beings.

    I’m feeling guilty for typing instead of paying attention to my child right now! I do find that I hide away in the internet to carve out quiet spaces for myself. :(


  25. I hear ya, Alkelda, on that carving-out-quiet-spaces necessity.

    You ALREADY have the CD? I want it right away, but wasn’t it just released today or something? You know that gorgeous song, “Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us?” My favorite singer/songwriter/musician in all the world wrote that. She’s so talented that it must hurt. It will be on her new CD come Feb., too.

    I’m off-topic. Sorry.


  26. Jules– I downloaded the album from iTunes. Thanks for the heads-up on Sam Phillips writing “Sister Rosetta…” I don’t have any of the liner notes, which is one of the drawbacks to downloading something. Sometimes the digital booklet comes along with the album, but most of the time it doesn’t.

    And now, I’m off to rake leaves and dig weeds while my daughter plays in her playhouse….


  27. How did I not know about the Southern Festival of Books? I am SO bummed I missed out on that! Ah well, there’s always next year… I have family in Memphis, so maybe I’ll make a weekend of it next year! Thanks for the info!


  28. hey Jules — AWEsome discussion.
    I just responded on my blog:

    http://liz-scanlon.livejournal.com/38753.html


  29. I write how I write. Stories want to be told different ways.


  30. [...] over at 7 Imp posted this quote from Rosemary Wells, said at the Southern Festival of Books [...]


  31. Grrrr. I’ve got a brief thing or two to say about Ms. Wells line, but I threw them up at my sight so that you don’t get inundated here with comments to my comment.

    http://fomagrams.wordpress.com/2007/10/24/process-report/

    I used the word “asinine.”


  32. Not that I’ve published my fiction anywhere except online, but my process is pretty much the same as Jane Yolen’s, except in my case it’s pen to paper not fingers on keyboard as I prefer to write long hand, re-reading and self-editing as I go, then type up, editing as I go again, then proof-read and edit again if necessary !

    I actually wrote a four page synopsis of the story I’m currently finishing writing – but that was a first ! Normally I just think, sleep, breathe a story (and I’m with Anastasia on the usefulness of the state when you’re not fully awake or fully asleep for throwing up ideas !)


  33. Oh, I definitely agree with her! The reason I’m so fascinated to “talk process” is because I think it’s all lies — seriously, I think we all make up our processes as we go along, and that we probably aren’t even right about what we think they are. Plus, there’s the not wanting to embarrass one’s self when discussing such things. I mean, honestly, so much of it is just thinking, wandering around, taking things in and reforming them into something else. Life is the real process, right?

    Still, sometimes what we perceive as the process of creating any given thing can be illuminating, and it’s always an interesting procrastination tool.


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