A Bit of Hypocrisy

Thoughts on Digital-Self Publishing (DSP), Series Seven

I have a confession to make.

I frequently agree – even volunteer – to do author interviews, but most of the time I’m not even slightly interested in reading interviews of other authors. I think that makes me a bit of a hypocrite.

It’s not that I’m not interested in other authors as people. I am. I’d be happy to make their acquaintance and chat with them about books and writing and life in general anytime.

Nor is it that I’m not interested in them as authors, necessarily. If they’ve written a good book, or a book that sounds like it might be good, I’d like to know about it.

But I don’t like reading author interviews, because I’m not even a little bit interested in how they write.

Let me explain.

Knowing how someone else writes is mere trivia. It doesn’t help you discover how you write. On the contrary, if Sherlock Holmes is even partly right about the brain being like an attic, liable to becoming cluttered, having that trivia in your head might even hinder you as a writer. You can get so caught up in trying to sort out “S/he does this, but s/he does that,” wondering whose method to imitate, that you give yourself writers’ block.

Here are a few examples of useless “writing process” type questions. I will answer them all here, and you will never need to waste your time reading another “writing process” question in an author interview ever again.

Q: What is your writing schedule?
Similar questions: Do you write part-time or full-time? Do you write every day? How many hours a day/week do you write? How much do you write at a time? Do you have word/page count goals for a given period of time? Do you find it hard to meet deadlines? Do you set deadlines for yourself? Etc., ad nauseam.

A: Irrelevant. You don’t need to know the answer to this question, because that author’s schedule is not identical to your schedule and that author’s writing stamina for a given project is not identical to your writing stamina for a different project. Knowing what their writing schedule was for a given book will not help you arrange your own writing schedule for any of your books.

P.S. Everybody writes part-time. Many writers also have day jobs. Nobody puts words on a page for 40+ hours a week, unless they’re in a deadline crunch.

P.P.S. If you’re not a writer, why would you ask this question or care about the answer?

The question you should be asking instead is: What is MY writing schedule?

Further questions that help you establish the answer: What is my availability? What are my priorities? Do I write more effectively at a certain time of day / day of the week? What is a realistic self-imposed deadline for my final goal with this project, and what are realistic self-imposed deadlines for achieving component goals in support of that final goal? What adjustments do I need to make in my writing schedule, now that I’ve tried this for a little while? How can I be more intentional about writing?

Q: Where do you get your ideas?
Similar questions: What inspired you to write this book? How do you come up with your ideas / where do you go for inspiration? Are your characters/books based on real people/events? Did you do any research? Did you write this in response to something that happened to you? Etc.

A: Obvious & universal. Good writers are constantly and continually researching, seeking inspiration, developing and refining ideas. All credible characters and all compelling stories are at least partly based on real people and real events – that’s what makes them convincing. Everything written has been written in response to something that happened to the author, or that the author observed happening to someone else.

Good writing is a product of craft and spirit. In other words, good writing is the result of developing ideas that interest you into ideas that captivate others (craft :: structure), which is empowered by cultivating personal habits conducive to your own creativity (spirit :: formlessness).

When asked, each author will answer these types of questions a little differently. Some will describe specific “active research” techniques, such as going to the library or interviewing people. Some will tell you where they were and what they were doing when the first brainwave that became book x struck them. Some will mention a friend of theirs or a personal experience that led to the creation of a character or episode or poem.

None of that matters. Their experiences will be too unique for you to replicate and their suggestions will be obvious things that you would have thought to try on your own anyway. Their answers to these kinds of questions won’t tell you what you want to know.

The question you should be asking instead is: What should I do to develop/encourage my own creativity?

Further questions that help you establish the answers: How do I become more interested in other people? Which information sources are worth exposing myself to regularly, and with which should I limit my contact? What kinds of activities make me stop and think, or inspire me to reflect? When do I find myself noticing potential connections between unconnected ideas / people / events? How do I know when I’ve had a good conversation with someone, and how do I repeat that experience with the next person? Do I feel “brain-dead” at certain times of day, or after doing certain things or engaging with certain types of media? Do I find I write better in certain places, or under certain conditions?

N.B. that some of these questions could be profitably asked of other authors. Their ways of getting creative might work for you, or might give you ideas about what to try.

Q: How did you write this book?
Similar questions: Was it hard to finish? Did you encounter writer’s block, and if so how did you get past it? Did you worry that you wouldn’t get it done / on time? What made you keep going / why didn’t you give up? Were you ever bored / frustrated / more interested in working on a different project than in finishing this one? What was the hardest/easiest part to write and why?

A: The author wrote the book by being sufficiently determined. That is the whole story. That is, as Dorothy Parker says, “the gist and sum of it.” And while plenty more is said in response to this question, there is nothing more to learn than this.

Rarely are virtues the opposite of vices. More often, vices are extremes and virtues are the balancing points between opposite vices. When it comes to writing books, we can graph the essential character quality like so:

Really good books are written by authors who keep as close as possible to the center of the spectrum: really good books are written with diligence. Stubbornness can get a book done, even when it’s not very good; cheating can produce books that sell. Diligence, which is excellence over time, produces really good books – books whose authors have been cleverly persistent and persistently clever. Who have combined craft and spirit, who have given form to inspiration. And who have been determined enough to do that all along.

The answer to this question is always the same: the author wrote the book exactly the same way you will, if you do. S/he wrote it by writing it.

Some days, the author focused on learning and practicing her craft. Other days, the author pulled back from the words themselves to focus on ideas, to let his mind explore and recreate. Most days the author sat down with some kind of writing implement and arranged words on a page.

But whatever the activity was, and whatever the obstacle encountered, the author found a way to keep going. The problems that couldn’t be tackled head-on were gradually eroded from the side or stabbed in the back. Because the author was determined to finish the book.

That is every author’s “how I wrote my book” story, in a nutshell.

It can be your story too, if you stop hoping to find the secret recipe for becoming a writer in author interviews.

The question you should be asking instead is: How have I been a writer today? How will I be a writer tomorrow?

Further questions that help you establish the answers: If improvement (progress towards perfection) requires practice, how will I practice tomorrow / this week? Am I working too hard / too smart for my own good / the good of my project? What will I do to help keep myself in balance? Am I still determined to finish this book?

P.S. If you’ve read any of my interviews in which I’ve answered “writing process” type questions, I sincerely apologize for wasting your time.

I’ll try not to do it again.


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