East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

The Process


The idea for this series of posts came to me after viewing a video by an American jazz musician, music teacher and vlogger I follow (Adam Neely, you find his videos here), and from the reading of an article I found while following up on some of Adam’s contents. The article is Music Theory and the Epistemology of the Internet; or, Analyzing Music Under the New Thinkpiece Regime, by William O’Hara, published in 2018.

Both the video and the article made me think about how information on creative/artistic pursuits is represented online. I was in particularly striuck by Adam Neely’s description of his “working musician” videos as “heist movies” in style – videos in which, just like in, say, Ocean’s Eleven, the preparation of the “heist” (the performance) is as entertaining as the “heist” itself, and leads to a deeper understanding of the process that goes into the work.

I have been trying to do something similar with my “Nuts & Bolts” posts on my Patreon, about my writing – I want to show what happens when you (try to) make a living writing.

And I have always tried to avoid the feeling there is a “secret knowledge” beneath what I do, something you can learn only by direct transmission from master to student, like Buddhist awakening in zen.

Writing is a job, it is hard physical work, just like digging ditches – you have tools, a process, personal experience, goals.
Talent and inspiration are unknown quantities, impossible to measure, and as such impossible to analyze.
The muse packed her bags and went back to her mother.
All that’s left is hard work.
All these things were passing through my mind and I decided to start a second series of posts, focusing on the process. The preparation of the heist.

The process can be summed up as this

1a) It starts with a character
1b) It starts with a plot idea

If you have a character, you have to define that character, and then find a plot that suits them.
If you have a plot, you have to develop it, and find the best character to explore that plot.

2a) defining the character
2b) developing the plot

… with all the other stuff mentioned at point 1

3) you need to do research

4) You start writing, to find the right voice for the story

Note that 3 and 4 usually happen during 1 and 2.
Once you have 1 and 2, enough of 3 and 4 (but how much is enough?)

5) you write the first draft

and it sucks.
This is something that is very hard to explain to some clients when you are a ghostwriter.
One thing I learned about writing by being a ghostwriter is, a lot of people have pretty unrealistic ideas about what writing really is, and many of them are too arrogant to accept the fact that anyone knows better than they do.
Anyway, because the first draft sucks…

6) You make the necessary adjustments, that usually mean

     6a) cut
     6b) rewrite
     6c) do more research

6a+6b+6c = 7) you write the second draft

That hopefully does not suck.
At this point…

8) you hand your story to your betas

And the betas have to answer very specific questions.

9) you talk with your editor

10) you have a story

There’s a few other bits and pieces in there – like, maybe you are writing in response to a call, so you’ve already heard an editor back at 1, or maybe your betas point out so many holes in your story you need a third draft, or what.

And you can say, hell, no, that’s not the way it’s done!
I do it very differently!
My cousin does it differently!
My favorite writer does it differently!
To which I can answer only… yes, you are right.
But I can only write about my own crimes, not about the crimes of others.
This is, after all, my heist.

I’ll try and cover all the points of the process – and may, in a series of future posts. And while this post will be freely available on my blogs etc., the 10 or so articles on the various phases of the process will go up on my Patreon, for my supporters.
I’ll use examples from my works in progress, showing the heist as it’s being planned, and then the heist as it’s executed.
It’s going to be interesting.
I hope.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “The Process

  1. Some great advice here. Thank you!


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