December 3rd, 2008


Black Wednesday

I interrupt my fledgling series on process to share my sadness as what is being called
Black Wednesday in the publishing world.

Hardly nothing nor nobody's sacred, it seems.

You can read a little bit about what's going on here and here and here, but the bottom line is that houses are hurting and, as a result, editors and authors and illustrators and designers and booksellers and the whole long string of us are hurting.

I have a personal, vested interest in Simon & Schuster, which got hit hard, but the truth is that there's got to be an all-for-one mentality here.

Writers and readers, booklovers and bookmakers.

Let's hope we can ride out this recession together, with words still valued and stories still standing -- and the good people who have made words and stories their life work still around to bring them to life...
Ferry Wake

Process and Product -- 2

"What do you do?" is sort of the quintessential American identity question.

The poser of the question is asking about your job, or career, with the presumption being that the answer will say a lot about you.
About your interests and passions and skills and values.
About who you really are.
Or at least about where you fall in the socioeconomic pecking order of our capitalist society.

What the person is not asking is "What do you do? Really. What is the practice and process of your daily life?"

Nope. That'd be way too much information.
Either way too perplexing or way too boring or way too scary.

I mean, let's admit it right here and now.
Many of us don't know what some of our best friends really do everyday.
Some of us are a little foggy on what our spouses do everyday.

Which is kinda too bad. Because to me, that's really the interesting question.
I mean, yes, we may be able to capture a certain sort of biographical snapshot when someone says, "I'm a lawyer (or engineer or rock musician or rock climber or waitress or gumshoe or pharmacist or curator or crook)," but the really revealing question is, "How?"
How do you fulfill those roles? 
How do you feel fulfilling those roles? 
How do you manage the tasks associated with filling those roles? 
How do you think you're doing in the scope of those roles?
How does that role fit with your life and your heart and who you really are?

It's really that stuff -- the practice and process of one's daily life -- that starts to tell us something real, I think.

For example, "I'm a writer" is an appropriate and expected answer to the quintessential American identity question.
But, I mean, big whoop.

Does that mean I'm good with words? 
Or that someone once told me I'm good with words? 
Or that I just believe myself to be good with words?

Does it mean I write newspaper articles or ad copy or computer manuals or pulp fiction?

Does it mean I like to be alone?

Does it mean I drink a lot of bourbon?

Does it mean I'm happy?
Or unhappy?

See what I'm getting at here?

So, really, I'm more interested in the process.
The ups and downs. The thrills. The doldrums.
The doubts and fears. The celebrations.
The pride. The shame.
The what you actually do everyday.

Me? My process has a terrifying amount to do with a wing and a prayer.
I am not a novelist (or rather I don't think I'm a novelist) (or rather I'm not a novelist yet) so there are no 1,000-words-a-day parameters to keep me honest. 1,000 words might be two or three picture books, for godssake. In a day. I'm getting kind of faint just thinking about it.

Instead I have some secret Indiana Jonesish-type equation -- some mysterious alchemy -- of planned time, goals and deadlines combined with utter flexibility, receptiveness and riskiness. This is what makes my writing life work and, at the same time, is what nearly sends me to apply for jobs as a bank teller numerous times a year.

It's all about working to manage that process so that I survive and my work thrives or vice versa or, sometimes, on the very best days, both together at the same time. Thriving, that is.

And I know I said I was going to talk about managing process today and instead this is just a long and wandery introduction, but that's the way it works when you build utter flexibility into a system. So. Managing process tomorrow. I promise...