I recently had the fortune of receiving a review copy of a book titled “The Writer’s Process” by Anne Janzer.
It was a unique book about what I will call the “science” behind the writer’s process … and I highly recommend it.
So I sent Anne 5 questions about the book, to which she graciously gave her answers (my question in bold, her answer in regular type).
Here they are, enjoy…
1. Can you please give a brief overview of the book’s main purpose and points?
The Writer’s Process is about the inner game of writing, from coming up with ideas to seeing projects through to completion. Think of your own experience. Sometimes, when you write, the words stream forth and you lose track of time. Other times, you work all day to scratch out a few words that you later delete. Writing uses multiple systems in the brain – sometimes they make writing fun and rewarding, and other times they sabotage us.
By understanding the different mental systems behind each stage of writing, you can work more productively and creatively. You can also minimize the common problems that beset writers, like writer’s block and procrastination.
2. What I like most about the book is it breaks down the writing process using a “scientific” angle … can you explain that further?
People used to pray to Muses or unseen spirits for inspiration. (Some still do.) But cognitive scientists tell us that we are our own Muses. We have to learn to navigate the inner workings of our minds to work creatively and productively.
The book explores cognitive science topics relevant to writers, such as attention, focus,creativity, and willpower. These are all staples of the writer’s inner game.
Scientists have studied the different types of attention, and how we switch between them. As writers, we can figure out when we need to use each type, in which stage of the writing process. Cognitive science also offers clues to the creative process and that magical state of flow, when the outside world disappears and you become absorbed in the work. We can take those lessons and apply them within our daily writing lives.
Even proficient, experienced writers with well-developed practices can fine-tune and improve their processes. Cognitive science may explain why something that you’ve always done works, and that knowledge helps you stay the course through temptations to multitask or cut corners. I know that writing the book has had that effect on my own practices!
3. My favorite part of the book starts on page 71 … and breaks down the “Process” of writing itself, including ideas. Can you give a little taste of “letting ideas incubate”?
Writing has many parts, including researching, drafting, and revision. In many ways, it’s like the process of baking bread. Bakers mix the ingredients and knead the dough, then let it rise for a while. When the bread rises, unseen organisms work their magic and transform the ingredients.
Incubation is like the rising phase of bread; parts of your brain below the conscious attention explore the work, even as you do other things.
Most of us have experienced this incubation effect: you get a great idea for a problem while you’re in the shower or driving to work. That’s because the associative, non-linear thought processes in your mind are at work. Incubation is one of my favorite writing practices: I’ll think about a writing issue or topic, then take a walk or go to the gym. When I return to focused writing, I’ve got something to work with.
It’s counter-intuitive, but you can often be more productive by taking breaks from the writing, giving your brain time to incubate ideas and topics.
4. You cover a very specific method for breaking through what writers call “writers block” … can you give us a little taste of how you approach that problem? (Personally, or from the book)
Writer’s block is often a sign that you’re bringing the wrong mental systems to the drafting of the writing process, trying to use focused attention to pull ideas out of thin air, or skipping the research and incubation part of the process. To counteract this, I rely on freewriting, or typing thoughts without internal criticism or filters. This often leads to new discoveries and avenues to explore.
My most important advice for the blocked writer is to shift your thinking: write for discovery, and don’t let the inner critic prevent you from writing. Use freewriting to give the other parts of your brain a chance to chip in. They usually do. You can always revise it later.
5. The subtitle of the book is “Getting Your Brain in Gear” … can you explain what that means for a writer?
This book is about discovering and improving your unique writing process. Each section offers exercises for exploring the ways that you work best – whether examining your mindset or changing your writing environment to invite the right mental state. After reading it, you should better understand which mental process to bring to each phase of the writing process, and how to set yourself up for success.
Thank you for your time Anne, and great book! Please share how writers can check out more about you on the web.
The site annejanzer.com has information about the book, my latest blog posts, and upcoming events. I continue to learn and explore them in my weekly Writing Practices blog posts – you can subscribe to them from the website, or on this link.