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Duelling Processes

Whatever your field of artistic expression, your process is the most personal thing about it. I think, anyway. But before we get to disagreeing, name calling, and finger pointing, lets make sure we’re on the same page.

By process, I mean what goes on in those Rube Goldberg brains of ours from the initial “What if?” or other spark of inspiration, through a few games of “here we go round the mulberry bush,” until the words hit the page–paint hits the canvas, clay hits the armature, found junk hits the assemblage, whatever suits your medium.

However you work, I think I can say that it’s a deeply personal, highly sensitive process that rarely, if ever, reacts well to deviations from the norm or intrusive finger poking from external sources. It’s like having someone other than yourself open the oven to check the soufflé, and before you know it, the soufflé has deflated.

The same with many good ideas that die untimely deaths.

My process is very internalized [what a surprise for an introvert!], and deeply subconscious. I literally work things out in my sleep.

Once, back in my college days, I had a summer job teaching acting at a performing arts camp in the Poconos. I roomed with the older gay couple who taught tap and ballet. One morning over breakfast, they asked me if I knew I talked in my sleep.

I was aware. There are stories for another day. Also sleep walking.

Anyway, I said I was aware and, as always, asked, “What was I saying?”

“Oh, you were directing a scene. Blocking.”

Which seemed weird to them, but made perfect sense to me. The camp had weekly performances, also the weekly turnover of part of the camp population, so you always struggled getting the new kids up to speed with upstage, downstage, stage right and left, while not neglecting the kids who already had a handle on the basics. So to try and do both, I would have the new kids watch me direct the other kids in their scenes for the week, then the more experienced kids would direct the new kids. It worked, but every week was a new batch of scenes, a new batch of kids, and a whole new batch of staging to pull out of my ass.

My solution was to block the scenes at night, in my sleep, when I could work uninterrupted.

When writing, I do the same. I’ll work out the details of a scene or chapter in my dreams. I don’t always remember having a dream, but I will often wake up with a solution to a writing problem that had been nagging me recently.

If I’m stuck worse than usual, I’ll throw kindling on the fire. Read a book by a favorite author, reread something that inspired me in the past. Watch a movie. Go somewhere and watch people. Then process the input at night, and see what shakes loose.

The hands-off approach works for me because, if I force myself to rework a piece compulsively, I get bored and disgusted with it and put it aside, sometimes forever. [Let me show you my filing cabinet and hard drive some day.]

Good, bad, or indifferent, that’s how my process has evolved over the years.

Now I find myself working on a project with a group of people, and the group process is that absolute antithesis to mine. In this situation, I do my thing and bring it to a group. We read it aloud, then everybody chimes in with thoughts and ideas. Usually all at once, and loudly because I’m participating via Skype, and they’re being fed directly into my ears.


They want results and acknowledgment and feedback right heckin’ now, with no chance to even think about it, much less sleep on it. The horror, the horror. Not only does it short circuit my usual process, it pushes all the buttons to make me weary of the project almost instantly.

I don’t know what to do about it. It’s a fun project. It’s an important [to me, at least] project, and it’s something I want to do and do well. So how do I Kobayashi Maru this fucker so that I get my process, but everyone else gets their input–but in a way that doesn’t make it “work” and put me right off it?

That’s the challenge du jour. Hit me up if you have any thoughts on the subject.


Published inAutobiographicalGeneralWriting