Ernest Hemingway, Zadie Smith, Joan Didion, Franz Kafka, David Foster Wallace, and more. In Process, acclaimed journalist Sarah Stodola examines the creative methods of literature’s most transformative figures. Each chapter contains a mini biography of one of the world’s most lauded authors, focused solely on his or her writing process. Unlike how-to books that preach writing techniques or rules, Process puts the true methods of writers on display in their most captivating incarnation: within the context of the lives from which they sprang. Drawn from both existing material and original research and interviews, Stodola brings to light the fascinating, unique, and illuminating techniques behind these literary behemoths.
É sempre um prazer ler (neste caso ouvir) livros sobre livros, autores, rotinas dos autores e outras peculiaridades que caracterizam as vidas literárias (e não só) daqueles que tantas horas de puro deleite nos proporcionam.
I received an ARC of this title from the publisher via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
Published by Amazon Publishing, January 20, 2015
What are we looking for when we look at the lives of great writers? I would assume many of us want the dirt; the broken relationships, alcohol problems, madness and eccentric behaviors we associate with artistic types. This is not a book about those things.
Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors, is exactly what it says it is. These are not biographies of writers in the grand sense, but a focused look at the schedules, behaviors and work preferences of particularly successful and memorable authors. In the introduction, Stodola states her intent to create a book that is of interest to both writers and general readers, and while probably true, I think it may skew slightly more towards writers than fans of particular authors. The information that has been rigorously gathered by Stodola (and rigorously cited- this book is 20% end notes) is fascinating, though occasionally on the dry side. There are bits of interesting trivia to be had, and lots of encouragement if you are looking for writers that succeeded despite strange or unexpected working habits.
All of the writers chosen are novelists, in that they have published at least one novel, and all began publication in the 20th and 21st centuries. The chapters each cover a pair of writers, placed together either because of a similarity or to compare and contrast. There are the Nine-to-Fivers (Kafka and Morrison), the Productive Procrastinators (DFW and Richard Price), and others defined by their particular style or habits. Later chapters contrast the Social Butterfly Fitzgerald with the Lone Wolf Roth. The closing chapter looks at the different approaches of Margaret Atwood and Zadie Smith in relation to technology (specifically the internet and social media). Each is straightforward and mostly undramatic, with lots of quotable facts sprinkled throughout, like Virginia Woolf’s preference for purple ink, or Vladimir Nabokov’s habit of writing in the bathtub. Each author’s entry ends with “A Day in the Writer’s Life” segment, which is interesting but unnecessary, as it really just sums up what was already covered in the longer text.
In the end, what Process does, aside from providing an enjoyable look at famous authors, is show us that there is no one correct or commendable way to write. There is always a lot of talk about writers absolutely having to write something every day, establish set times and word counts, which the many examples in this book proves to be untrue, or at least nebulous. There is no one way to write, and even the hardest circumstances don’t have to limit a writer’s potential, if the drive is there. Joyce went blind, Woolf and DFW dealt with severe mental illness, Nabokov was a perpetual refugee, Morrison was a single mother, Kafka was thwarted by his family, Rushdie was driven into hiding by a fatwa- and yet they all worked within their limits to the best of their abilities, and we are still reading their work and analyzing their lives today.
I write a bit of fiction myself and it’s always interesting to take a peek behind the curtain to see how successful writers operate. In Process, Sarah Stodola shares a series of profiles detailing, briefly, the writing lives of famous authors ranging from Edith Wharton to Junot Diaz. This book is interesting and inspiring, and even has a good idea or two that could be helpful to aspiring writers. It’s comforting to see how much the great novelists struggle to get words on the page.
Stephen King’s “On Writing” is even better than this book. So if you’re a King fan who wants writing help and inspiration On Writing might be a better place to go for it.
This book was just what I needed. As a writer it's great to hear how other writers have done it. Not so much about how they crafted sentences or came up with complex plot structures, but rather the quirky details; how some refused to work before noon, how others could only party in Paris, and write in the states, while one preferred typing in a room painted black. The overall message is that there isn't a precise recipe for greatness, but that you must create your own path and pave it however you like, and if you want to rip it up one day and pour asphalt where it was once cobblestone, good for you.
A must have book for fans of fine literature, and for those who itch to put pen to paper.
TEN stars for this book! From Kafka to Kerouc, Didion to Diaz, this paints the big picture of how writers write. Each author, from the classic to the current are profiled in terms of their writing lives, techniques, dreams and a day in the life. Myths are dispelled, truths revealed, and enough affirmation and inspiration for all who endeavor to put worlds on the page. I mean, of course, words. Or did I? This belongs on your writers shelf between Anatomy of Story and Xray Writing. Excellent on Audible!
Loved this book. It's perfect for someone that loves reading about authors and how they write. I thought the author sounded legit, informed, and was straightforward. I liked how she stayed on course and didn't get lost in the author's personal lives no matter how crazy they were. One thing she used the word "crystalline" entirely too much!
This book gives some interesting insights into how, when,.and where famous writers do their thing, as well as their background and inspirations. However, the sections tend to be slow and repetitive, and the authors are mostly in literary fiction. A dozen or so contemporary popular writers added to the mix would have been nice.
It's good to know that the greats were all crazy too. Everyone has their own mountain to scale and I am not special. Loved the 'Day in the life of a writer' sections they gave me a lot of great ideas to test out. Very interesting read.
This book had been recommended by a member of a local writers group I'd attended. It includes a concise, and comprehensive glimpse into the writing styles, and lifestyles, of 18 well-known authors, with a great summary paragraph at the end of each segment. I thought it was helpful, because it gave personal information on each, with some struggling to get anything written down, yet completing great works of literature. It shows how writing draws from the very depths of the author's heart and soul, and in every case incorporated parts of that person's life, developed, restructured into different persons by means of the characters in the novel. The characters taking on a life of their own, and follow the path placed before them by the author. What was most amazing to me was the fact that many of the novels did, in fact, take years to bring to fruition, then finally, to publication. It gave me a sense of it being, somehow, okay, and to let the work-in-progress do just that: progress, at its own time, in its own way, because that novel does, in the end, have a life of its own. I definitely recommend this book as a valuable read, no matter by a reader, or writer, or reader/writer...lol; really, I think everyone would find this an interesting book.
Absolutely fascinating! I am an author and always suppose I am the only one who writes in pieces, going this way and that, abandoning books and taking them up again, changing the focus, rewriting one para forty times and cutting it out and rewriting it to one line and putting it elsewhere.....but this is just the path, and each book has its own path and own reason. So it confirms I have many great and talented colleagues, some very brilliant indeed, who have stumbled in their own way towards completing a book! Its very nice to know my crazy creative way is normal!
I received an eARC of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
"Process" is a book about writers and their routines (or lack thereof), collating information about a vast number of writings, from Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf through to Junot Diaz and David Foster Wallace, amongst many others. The book itself is split into sections, aggregating authors with similar processes (speed of writing, avoidance or embracing of the Internet, for example) into each section.
Stoloda has performed an impressive amount of research to write this book, and should one wish, there are an abundance of footnotes to chase up on individual authors if you wish to read more about them and their process. I personally find this kind of stuff fascinating, and what's most fascinating of all is how much individual processes differ. If there's a clear message from this book, it's that there is no magic bullet to writing process, but merely what works for each individual.
If you're a writer yourself, or simply fascinated by writers, then "Process" is well worth getting hold of.
Process is a collection of prosaic essays describing the inspirations, works, and lives of eighteen well-known authors. Your romantic notions of writers in cozy sweaters effortlessly channeling otherworldly inspiration by fires in quiet woodsy cabins near lakes won't survive this book. In fact, after finishing this book I wondered how it is that "successful writer" doesn't regularly outdo "alaskan fisherman" on lists of the world's most hazardous occupations. Kafka, David Foster Wallace, Orwell, Woolf, Kerouac, Hemingway, Fitzgerald etc etc got the kind of alone time introverts fantasize about and yet their struggles to accept the unclosable gaps between their written words and their aspirations frequently proved unsurvivable.
This book is exactly as it is described. If you are interested in the topic, you will find something interesting here. Every chapter, even if you haven't read anything by the author featured, is interesting, engaging, and informative. However, I did find that I liked the chapters better that were about authors whose works I was at least a little bit familiar with. One or two authors I was 100% new to, and those chapters I was less into because it felt like I had a bit of info missing. So, this is not quite an introductory book, but it is not advanced reading either (meaning, you can read it if you have a decent interest in reading or writing, but you don't have to have a PhD on every writer to get it).
Process was as a pleasure to read, from start to end. I'm a sucker for anything about the lives of authors, as well as their creative process, so this was right up my alley. Almost every chapter was interesting in its own right, save for a couple whose work/process didn't really grab me (sorry, Richard Price and Edith Wharton) and the Toni Morrison chapter in particular made me go pick up my current read, Home, and add a great many other books to my ever-growing wishlist. If you're interested in the authors, or in writing, or even just hearing how creative giants came to be, I'd recommend picking this up.
Fun book that discusses the writing process of about 14 writers: Kafka, Foster Wallace, Nabokov, Woolf, Orwell, Zadie Smith, Wharton, etc. I've seen a few from this genre in the past few years, but this is the one to read. It's more in-depth with new and different information. That is, not just the typical or already well-known stories...the author digs a bit deeper. Fun read if you are a writer.
I would've enjoyed more diversity in the selection of authors, and perhaps a different arrangement in chapters. There was a stretch in the middle of chapter after chapter of solely male authors and found myself wanting it broken up with more female authors. Otherwise, this was a wonderful glimpse into the writing lives of well-known authors. There were only a few authors I didn't recognize at all and now I feel some obligation to read works by the authors touched on whom I've yet to read.
This book was a very enjoyable collection of insights into the lives, writing lives and writing habits of well known authors. It was a pretty diverse group - Kafka, Hemingway, Zadie Smith, Virginia Woolf - with some attempt at grouping them according to broad writing habits which didn't quite work for me. I was fascinated by the individual entries, although some were more interesting than others but overall it didn't quite draw me in as much as I had expected.
This book is not bad, but if you're interested in reading this kind of thing about great writers, I recommend checking out the Paris Review's Interviews, which are available online for free: http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews. (Not everyone in the book is on there, but there are tons more.)
I'm always game to read about creative processes. This collection was interesting, though not my favorite of the genre; I'm wondering if it's because I'm used to in-depth interviews with contemporary authors, which makes this sort of collection feel more removed. I must say it's also disheartening how many of these authors seem determined to prove it's impossible to balance quality literary productivity and a healthy personal life: quite a lot of mistreated partners, squandered genius, mental health issues, limited output, and short lives in this bunch. It's certainly worth a read for those interested in these authors or process in general though. Stodola collects interesting facts and leaves the reader with a number of entertaining vignettes.
- Edith Wharton wrote in bed, carefully positioned for the best light, using a custom board and ink pot, tossing blue pages of her writing on the floor to be fetched by her hired help and typed up by a secretary.
- In contrast, Franz Kafka severely deprived himself of physical comforts for fear they would distract him, only to admit as he was dying of tuberculosis that "illness and despair" can be "just as much of a distraction."
- George Orwell and Richard Price undertook intense undercover research to immerse themselves in their chosen setting. The stories they could (and did) tell...
- Jack Kerouac motivated himself by calculating his writing output as a batting average, though he clearly felt his most critical tool for writing was Benzedrine and a variety of other drugs.
- Virginia Woolf switched to writing standing up purely out of sibling rivalry, after she heard someone complimenting her sister for having the endurance to spend all day on her feet painting.
- James Joyce followed a multi-stage and meticulous research and writing process for each work... which got even longer once he was famous and realized he could write extra drafts and sell them to collectors.
- Joyce's wife once yelled during an argument: "Why don't you write sensible books that people can understand?" Seems very deserved, especially since he tried to convince her to sleep with other men just so that he could write about it.
- Fitzgerald viewed his short stories as necessary money-makers to be dashed off as quickly as possible so that he'd have enough money to take more time on his novels and fund his lavish social lifestyle with Zelda, though the balance never seemed to work out as planned.
- Zadie Smith chooses an inspiration or scaffold to give a very basic structure for each novel, but for the most part she develops novels with an intense micro focus on each sentence, not moving forward until she's completely content with the sentence that came before, meaning she can spend months or years just getting the beginning pages right before building enough momentum to finish the rest more quickly. Then time to revise, to "take off the top, let a little air in." And finally, the best part, being finished, and "a feeling of happiness that knocks me clean out of adjectives."
- Junot Diaz is painfully, beautifully honest about his depression and his writing struggles. It took a long, agonizing road to finish each of his award-winning works, and it hasn't gotten any easier. He feels deeply the strangeness of being "good at something I find very difficult."
- Margaret Atwood spent large parts of childhood at a remote insect research station with her father. She types slowly using only four fingers, which she feels is actually helpful for pacing and attention (and as Stodola points out, that's "at least is twice as many as David Foster Wallace used.") She meticulously researches character names, and also says that even in her speculative fiction, she does "not include anything that human beings had not already done in some other place or time, or for which the technology did not already exist," i.e. The Handmaid's Tale being modeled on "the heavy-handed theocracy of 17th-century Puritan New England, with its marked bias against women, which would need only the opportunity of a period of social chaos to reassert itself." She often writes poems on themes she's grappling with before she can find their novel shape; "It's almost as if the poems open something, like opening a room or a box or a pathway. And then the novel can go in and see what else is there."
Plus more on Toni Morrison, David Foster Wallace, Vladimir Nabokov, Salman Rushdie, Joan Didion, Ernest Hemingway, and Phillip Roth.
"The writing process is largely unique, individual, and can sound very weird indeed."
Whether you're already a writer, have aspirations to become one, or are a voracious reader who's simply curious about how writers write, then Process is a book that should find its way beneath your nose at some point. And sooner rather than later.
Stodola does a fantastic job of breaking down some well-known novelists' writing habits and techniques as well as their idiosyncrasies in an incisive yet thorough fashion by giving readers a peek into the arduous reality of what it means to write. To create. To take an idea that forms in the imagination and then flush it out on the page, bringing it to life.
Not only was it enlightening for me to learn more about the creative toils of greats like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Joan Didion, Ernest Hemingway, or Virginia Woolf, but I also found this book to be affirming. Inspiring. Consoling.
Some of the writers featured in this book take copious notes, have detailed outlines, while others need nothing more than a title, an emotion, or an image as the catalyst for a new story. A few of them write exclusively in the morning. Others in the afternoon or evening. A couple who flourish creatively in the nighttime. There are those who require silence, solitude, no distractions; then those who prefer places with noise, conversation, the Internet, or activity. There are loungers, pacers, hermits, readers, non-readers, social butterflies, introverts, daily worker bees, intermittent musers, and some who take either weeks or months or years to finish a new work.
It's incredible! Essentially it's fascinating to see and understand that, while there may be commonalities in the writing process, there are also a multitude of differences. The point is this: there is no such thing as "universality" where writing is concerned. And that's okay!
That simple illumination helped give me peace of mind about my own process, which I often lament as "tortoise slow" because I edit and revise as I go along, making it so my new content output for the day may only result in a couple hundred words or a few fresh pages. I also tend to be fiercely critical of every word I manage to put to paper. It turns out I'm far from the only writer who does this. James Joyce only averaged about 15 words per day, for instance; and Kafka, well--he supposedly burned or destroyed 90% of his writing in effigy. Bizarrely, these little factoids comforted me because, hey, these literary giants have/had writing issues, too!
No matter what kind of writer you are or are not, I think it's easy to convince yourself that you're somehow "doing it wrong." This book dispels that notion in every conceivable way. In fact, if I could take away only one thing from this book it's this: there is no right or wrong way to write. There's only YOUR way.
I don't know about you, but I think that's an encouraging message for anybody!
*Received a free copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads giveaway.
You might think writers who are able to complete a novel have an easier time writing, but actually, they are simply the most persistent.
I found this book to be completely fascinating.
I believe many of us have at least one good story in our imaginations and it’s just a matter of extraction. But how? Each writer has to find out their process, whether it has to do with time of day, arrangement of one or more writing areas, or a ritual of tasks beforehand. The great writers covered here have much of the same habits, and the reader might be able to gain insight from that to apply to their own process.
General takeaways: Whatever is happening in one’s life is rich material for literature. Any person in a writer’s life is a potential character, or has traits that can be transferred to a character. Some of the writers even seek out adventures in order to infuse their writing with new experiences. Most write out drafts by hand, even some of the modern writers. Writing is a compulsion. You can see that they are drawn to writing, even as it isn’t a pleasant experience. Some know where their novel is going before they start; others just start writing and let it unfold organically.
My notes on each author: Franz Kafka: Solitary; Boring job; Overbearing father ended up in his works; Writer friend Max Brod vital to getting Kafka’s work published, serving as sounding board and editor; Published posthumously.
Toni Morrison: Early morning writer; Worked as editor; Novel driven by one strong visual or sentence; No social life, just kids and writing; Avoids literature while writing, but reads detective novels; Black centrality important; Works on one book at a time.
David Foster Wallace: American excess, boredom common themes; Black writing room decorated with old lamps; Chronically distracted with tv but not internet.
Richard Price: Bronx childhood; Wrote screenplays; Uses experiences on NY Lower East Side observing drug deals, criminals; Best at writing dialogue; Doesn’t have full plot when he starts; Multiple offices to write; Procrastinates in morning until nothing left but to write.
Edith Wharton: Always foreshadows characters in beginning; Not published until age 39; Wrote 44 books; Lived NYC society; Reading crucial to development as writer; Wrote in bed with dogs beside her, papers strewn on floor, typed up by secretary later; Multiple novels and stories in works at same time; Wrote in morning.
George Orwell: Knew at 5 or 6 he would be a writer; Concrete events and melancholy needed to write; First drafts rough and handwritten; Writing came before relationships.
Virginia Woolf: Reading and writing sustained each other; First published at age 33; Felt strongly that financial means necessary to be a writer, especially as a woman, in order to devote the time to write all day.
Vladimir Nabakov: Able to write anywhere, never created a highly personalized writing space like others; Knew he would be a writer at young age; Believed in his own genius; Novel ideas arrive as a “pang” or “shock” and must be written soon after. Nearly burned Lolita draft when frustrated, but stopped by wife Vera; She was a trusted editor.
Salmon Rushdie: Writes 7 days a week; Moved a lot during fatwa; Writing space needs to be customized with familiar objects; Considers hundreds of titles to find the right one; A critical sentence can be the foundation for the novel.
Joan Didion: Novels spring from observed scenes or newspaper stories; Note-taking phase for novel can take years; Uses repetition of lines; Dread, never stops hating book; Each day types up last few pages before launching into new pages; Writes daily.
Jack Kerouac: Used drugs to tweak perceptions and accelerate writing; Autobiographical approach inspired by Thomas Wolfe; Discussed with Allen Ginsberg and other Beats their “New Vision,” a theory for literature that challenged societal conventions; Neal Cassady major influence; An On the Road draft written on 120 foot scroll.
Ernest Hemingway: Invented the writer as hero; Writing style influenced by newspaper style guide; Woke up with the sun; Tracked daily word count; Wrote letters instead of fiction during writer’s block; Often kept two writing spaces at once; Extensively revised books; Chose title from list of hundreds when book complete.
James Joyce: Much confidence in his genius, but very slow writing progress; Averaged 7 words per day to produce 3 novels and 1 book of short stories in 58 years; Teacher; Impending serialization of novel prompted faster writing- deadlines work! Notes on stray bits of paper, later color organized; Made sure factual details in his books were correct; Poor money management.
Junot Diaz: 10 years to write first novel, put away and revisited. Unable to write on demand, finds writing difficult. Slow pace not due to failing to find work-life balance or not having enough time; Suffered depression; Perfectionist; Teacher; Writes standing up or lying down.
F. Scott Fitzgerald: Published young and lived well in Jazz Age as a result; Once famous, sold short stories for large sums of money to newspapers and magazines to fund party lifestyle with wife and buy uninterrupted time to work on novels; Not much progress in NYC or Paris due to distractions; Compulsive list maker and planner; Perfectionist; Genesis of each story is not a plot or character, but an emotion; Drafts written in pencil on unlined paper.
Philip Roth: Living in New York provided stimulation and material, but over time found country solitude more conducive to writing; Famous for writing standing up; Used typewriter, later years computer; Routine of writing morning and afternoon daily, frequent rewrites; Decided to be writer at 23; Being a teacher allowed the most free time writing; With each new book, he starts without knowing where it’s going, eventually finds the conflict.
Margaret Atwood: Plausibility is cornerstone of her work, no matter how imaginary the world she creates; Prefers work classified as “speculative fiction” instead of “science fiction”; Rejects feminist label; Always collecting details in life; Character names researched to ensure meaning; Has abandoned novels with great detail but no plot; Decided at 16 to be writer; Books take 6 months to a few years to write; Writing an improvisational act each time.
Zadie Smith: Began writing first novel at age 20; Financially secure at age 25; Writes without a grand plan; Writing schedule depends on mood; Starts writing day reading what she wrote previous day; Edits as she goes, so just one draft written; Each novel approached with new perspective; Large amount of time spent on first 20 pages of book; NYU professor.
Ironically, this review took me weeks to finish writing up.
After finishing this book, I came across an article on George R.R. Martin and his writing progress on The Winds of Winter, the next book in A Song of Fire and Ice (Game of Thrones), which I thought was relevant to this review as it shows insight in another present-day writer. He is under a lot of pressure, disproportionate, I feel, by fans to “write faster” and this is only because they are anticipating his next work. Most authors are not writing a series but many are equally slow. Reading this book, you see that writing a complete work that the author is happy with takes immense time and effort and can be very taxing mentally, so I hope fans keep that in mind and remain patient. http://watchersonthewall.com/a-scient... (This blog post says it contains spoilers but all I saw were names of future chapters and the vague names of two battles, which mean nothing to me.)
I’ve always wondered about the processes of other writers, if only to justify my own. They are as varied as the people from which Stodola mines information.
I was struck by the fact that although their processes are extremely varied, as are their workdays, their sources of inspiration, and the tricks they play on themselves to increase output and reduce angst, none seem to be “plotters,” and that their inspiration comes from esoteric and often almost ethereal concepts, the types of ideas it is very difficult to plot around. And they change their minds and alter plots often and drastically. They may or may not believe in muses (most don’t) but something drives this behavior. Perfectionism, a never wavering sense of responsibility to the work, of getting it “right. Something.
These are great literary writers, and I am a genre fiction writer. The concepts they grapple with may be more complex, but the emotions are often the same. And as writers we all struggle with the same things. Fear, doubt, procrastination, guilt, the often never-ending urge to “fix.” It heartened me to learn that we struggle with the same issues in often the same way. As the great contemporary romance writer Susan Elizabeth Phillips has said, “you’re not special.”
Highly recommended to anyone who creates art in any form in which they put their psyches on the line. Which is all of us.