Can great writing be reduced to process?

Not exactly, looking at this piece on great writers and how they write. These novelists — Richard Powers, Nicholson Baker, Junot Diaz, Margaret Atwood, Anne Rice and 12 others   — all have different methods. Some procrastinate, some don’t (none of them seem to always get it right the first time). Some write things out longhand, some type on the computer. We humans take so many paths to self-expression! My favorite comment was from Michael Ondaatje, who said “Some writers know what the last sentence is going to be before they begin—I don’t even know what the second sentence is going to be.”

Even though I’m a non-fiction writer living in an age when the novel supposedly has run its course, I enjoyed a focus on these great storytellers.

2 thoughts on “Can great writing be reduced to process?

  1. “I don’t even know what the second sentence is going to be.” What about the first sentence!? Just like cleaning the house, just getting started is more than half the battle. As a former news writer, I still tend to start with sentences that sound like headlines and then let everything cascade from there. Of course, fiction requires a little more elegance, which is exactly why I’m not a good fiction writer! I do think process is important. For example, in the Lit Club I supervise at my kids’ school, I constantly encourage the young writers to work on their process. Outlines, setting descriptions, and character development are important — if for no other reason than to help inspire their creativity. Of course, there’re also those times when it’s important to just let it go and not let process stand in the way of inspired writing.

  2. Hi, Michael. As you know, I write nonfiction. But, in a sort of “reverse inverted pyramid,” my problem is with beginnings … and middles … and all the parts in between the beginnings and middles. But, like this post, it’s all about the perfect ending.

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