Everyone talks about process

Famously, the internet is full of cats. Also – I am given to understand – pornography, but it’s the cats that I find, everywhere I look. Cats, and writers talking about their process.

Sometimes I do that too, and I usually end up describing myself as a dinosaur, last of the old kind, a survivor from a bygone age. I don’t simply predate the internet, I predate the PC; my first five published books were written on a typewriter. And most writers are conservative, we cling to long-established habits. Out of superstition or prejudice, as much as anything: this works for me, we growl, it’s just the way I do things, meaning don’t threaten me with your dangerous new ideas or if I don’t use purple ink on lined quarto hand-laid sheets I’ll never sell another word, they’ll see straight through me for the hollow sham I am…

My own writerly habits were formed, my personal process evolved way back when writing really was still a lonely business, as well as a mechanical rather than an electronic one. I typed and retyped, every letter of every draft; when I thought a story ready, I kept a carbon and sent the clean top copy off by post. To an editor, or later to my agent.

I may have been using computers since the mid-eighties, but my process remains more or less the same. Not for me the fancy Scrivener-type software with its notes and outlining and so forth; when I’m writing, I want a screen that as much resembles a blank white sheet as possible. Even after a quarter of a century, I still use my computer as a glorified typewriter, and I suspect I always will.

And when the work is ready, I may send it off electronically these days, but it still goes straight to agent or editor. No beta-readers, no critiquing group, no other eyes at all. That’s the biggest change wrought by technological advances, that the process of writing has become almost communal to the new generation. Paper is heavy, mail is slow and unreliable, a lost document can be a catastrophe; everything used to mitigate against sharing manuscripts among one’s peers. No longer. People distribute their works-in-progress via the internet and otherwise, they post daily wordcounts, they brag their achievements and discuss their difficulties and conduct research through their blogs. It’s all rather wonderful, and rather infectious too. I play along, most ways – you will find me as Desperance on LiveJournal – but still nobody sees my work before it’s survived professional scrutiny. This works for me, it’s just the way I do things…

[This post brought to you by the dawning realisation that technology is changing the editorial process too, that a copy-edit is becoming a conversation via tracked changes and comments in the margin. And that, as ever, I don’t want to change; all my comments are variations on Why can’t I phrase it/structure it/punctuate it this way? Don’t talk to me about house style, this is my style – but that’s probably another post.]

Visit Chaz Brenchley’s bookshelf at BVC, and buy Dead of Light as an e-book


About Chaz Brenchley

Chaz Brenchley has been making a living as a writer since the age of eighteen. He is the author of nine thrillers and several fantasy series, under the names of Daniel Fox and Ben Macallan as well as his own. Chaz has recently married and moved from Newcastle to California, with two squabbling cats and a famous teddy bear. You can find his work in the BVC Ebookstore.


Everyone talks about process — 9 Comments

  1. I feel the same way you do about the blank page of the computer screen. Technology – it its place has its uses – but a little goes a long way.

    What finally happened with the despite dispute?

  2. Ah, but how did you acquire the confidence to know the ms was good enough? For me, a read through by the other half, at least, is a form of quality control, on top of everything else.

  3. Martha – I found a second instance this morning, where she wanted to change “despite” to “in spite of”. I am having no truck with this.

    Kari – I don’t know, honestly. I am not the world’s most confident person – except, apparently, in this. It might be rampant egotism (I have friends who will tell you this). It might be bluff. It might just be necessity: when I started sending work out I had no writer-friends, no one with judgement I would trust, let alone another half.

  4. I am so grateful for beta readers, when I can get them. So very grateful. I thought this was one of the (many) signals I ain’t worth crap until I discovered that Jane Austen used to read her stuff aloud to the family, and did a lot of editing and fixing and changing. While that doesn’t make my writing one iota better, it makes me feel better about how hapless I am for my inability to see what the reader sees from my words.

  5. I’m with Chaz. In my novels, I shall reign like Alexander — and I shall reign alone. You want a change, dear editor? Buy in — put money on the table. Otherwise you have no standing.
    Somehow I am much more loosey goosey about short fiction. it is as if those are not so important to the Muse.

  6. I fought Scrivener with a mighty fight, but for the current project, which has more research and notes than anything I’d ever written before, it wound up being very helpful. However, in revision I’m retyping the whole thing into Word, with the blank screen to egg me on. Weird but true.

  7. I actually had difficulty transitioning to the keyboard; for a long time the first draft had to be written out by hand, ideally in pencil. All my creativity is handiwork.