Reading posts and comments from other writers so I can compare and contrast process is an invaluable experience for me. There seem to be as many methods out there as there are writers.
One subject we haven’t touched much on is how the actual story comes into being. I don’t recall at all how the germ of my work in progress came to me. I can recall roughly when it happened and that I sat down and started writing immediately, but not much more than that. Since that time, I’ve learned a great deal more about process and how I should be turning this idea into a novel. The story has also changed significantly.
Saturday I had plans to do some writing and some reading. I recently bought the entire thirteen volume collection of Chekov’s short stories and I’ve been working my way through volume one. I’m also reading Augusta Locke by William Haywood Henderson, one of the Lighthouse Writers Workshop instructors who will be at the retreat I’m attending next month. And I picked up The Children’s Hospital by Chris Adrian, based on an intriguing review by Scott Esposito that I read at The Quarterly Conversation.
But first, I needed to unload the dishwasher. Then I needed to eat and I like to read the paper when I eat. After reading the paper I figured I’d take a look at another book that I have sitting in my stack for later. Woody Allen on Woody Allen, In Conversation with Stig Bjorkman is a series of interviews with the writer and director, organized by film. Several hours later, I was still reading the book and by the time I sat down to write, it was Saturday night.
The fascinating thing to me about Woody Allen is that he is a writer first, and an extremely disciplined one. Throughout this series of interviews, it became apparent that each script that he writes is developed almost entirely in his head before he begins the mechanical process of writing.
From the book:
“You told me earlier that on Tuesday you will start work on your new script. How do you proceed? Do you sit every day between certain hours, like office hours, and work?”
“Yeah, I get up early, because I naturally get up early. And I come down here and I have breakfast. Then usually I work by myself. Once in a while it’s a collaboration, but usually not. And I go into the backroom or this room (Woody’s living room) and I start to think. I walk up and down and I walk up and down the outside terrace. I take a walk around the block. I go upstairs and take a shower. I come back down and think. And I think and think. Then just by the sweat of the brow, eventually something comes.”
He goes on to describe the actual writing as the joyous part because by then, he’s got everything worked out. I thought that if I had spent a fair amount of time just thinking and working my story out in my head before beginning to write, how much simpler things would be and it occurred to me that surely other writers probably do proceed that way. Making time to do nothing but focus on the story is easier said than done. Perhaps the physical act of writing feels more productive, but in the end, it’s possible we spend as much, if not more time fixing things we didn’t think through as we would have spent had we thought things out more thoroughly up front.
Finding time to think about anything without multi-tasking or losing focus is tough. For example, while finding the URLs to create links to the references in this post, I also found out that Placido Domingo, general director of the Los Angeles Opera just announced that Woody Allen will make his operatic directorial debut with the opening event of the Los Angeles Opera's 2008-2009 season. This has nothing to do with how he writes, but for crying out loud, is there anything he won't try?
I tend to be quite a bit like Ellen Degeneres when it comes to being able to focus for an extended period on one thing. I’m thinking about why it would make more sense for the husband character to be an attorney and not a doctor or an investment banker and I’m wondering where the word attorney came from. Attorney starts with the letters “Att” and I wonder how AT&T being the sole service provider for the iPhone is going to impact their stock prices, and I wonder why they call it chicken stock or vegetable stock because after all…
You get the picture. I’m not always six degrees from a straight jacket and a good anti-psychotic, but nearly.
How much thinking and working through your story do you do before putting pen to paper or before beginning to type? Does the story develop as you’re writing it, or do you have much of it worked out in advance and refine and add detail as you go? As you write more and more stories, do you find you know more in advance what’s going to happen?