Art of Fiction: Process

Taking a break from writing this morning, I sat outside and enjoyed a cup of coffee, a cigar and a book on the practices of painters. My three dogs joined me, two romping through the tall grass chasing birds and rabbits, the other, the eldest, wending around my legs before going back inside to sleep. I’ve been picking up this volume on artist process from time to time and finding so many jewels. I find there are many correlations between how a painter works and the process a writer goes through to get the job done; or, at least this is how it is for me. There was a time when I couldn’t admit that either to myself or to others. It smacked of some kind of heresy. To my mind writers, much like painters, stare at something until it makes sense — in other words, actually sitting down and staring and then beginning to paint brushstrokes or write sentences; and, then once it does begin to coalesce as it were (oh, I like that phrasing or that description or that line), use the conventions of the medium to produce with some ending in mind. And similarly once conventions are exhausted the real work begins in making further still choices and living with the consequences. Painters overpaint; writers erase and revise. For me the process is of utmost importance; it’s organic, perhaps unconventional I don’t know, and places me at the center of the process, rather than as a mendicant to the product. I like how painter Inka Essenhigh put it: “The more in touch with myself I get, the more I am just going to assume that other people will like it too.” For me writing is process, not product. Honest process shields the writer from the vulgarities of marketplace and from the tyranny of ego since this is simply what you do, and the world be damned. Writers write and only after having written do conventions apply, and once these conventions are polished the process-driven writer willingly admits his or her work is done. It’s then over to the reader.

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