Process or Product – what’s your writing payoff type?

Process or Product – What’s your writing payoff type? And how could knowing that help with your writing?

I was at a theatre writing lab last week and there was a group discussion about the ‘magic’ of writing. One of the participants said she felt the romance of writing was a bit over-egged. She felt that calling it magic added a certain sense of pressure to it, especially if, like her, writing was in the main a miserable process, one that had to be endured to get the thing done.

It’s a valid point and her experience chimes with that of many writers and it got me thinking: why write if you don’t love the act of writing?

I spend a lot of time working with writers to help them find their ‘magical’ place, the routes in that enable them to go to that delicious place of flow I wrote about last week. But that’s not the focus with all writers, because ultimately it depends on how we’re motivated. And for some, magic isn’t it.

Getting to my point the long way round…

Many years ago, I tentatively turned up to a read-through/audition at Crediton Arts Centre. I hadn’t acted since GCSE Drama, but a voice had nudged me for a while to ‘have a go at acting again’ and so when I spotted the call out, I simply followed that internal direction. It was there that I first met the inimitable Anthony Richards, founder and director of the Devon-based Common Players. Anthony had been appointed by the arts centre’s production company to put on a Beckett/Pinter double bill that autumn. I ambled in to the auditions one warm late summer’s evening, hoping to be allowed to paint some scenery, only to find myself quite soon after ensconced in a life-size funeral urn, cast in Samuel Beckett’s Play, as the mistress.

Working with Anthony and the cast was an amazing and yeah, I’m gonna go for it, a life-changing experience. Whilst my path through theatre is much more comfortably off stage than on these days, something was sparked in those sessions that has never been extinguished.

As opening night was nearing, Anthony made a comment, the essence of which has stuck with me ever since. He said that there are two motivations for acting – you’re either the type of actor who does it for the process, that’s where you get your kicks and the ‘payment’ you make for those kicks is the performance; OR you’re the type who does it for the performance, and therefore you ‘pay’ for that kick through the process of rehearsals.

Write to write or Write to publish?

I share this with you now because I think the same is broadly true of writers.

Some write for the love of the process. To get to do that process as much as they would like, they produce a product and publish. Or they might not publish at all. And then some write to publish, to get their words out there. For them, the process is the activity they go through to achieve their end goal.

As with all such binary observations, they are only useful up to a certain point – but it’s worth thinking which camp do you most closely identify with in your writing? Are you a person who loves the sheer act of sitting down and putting words on the page? Or are you a person who lives for the buzz of the byline?

Why does it matter?

Why it’s worth you mulling this question, is because your preference is also quite a good indicator of the likely shadow side to your writing.

If you prefer process over publication, you may find yourself struggling to let go of a draft. If your preference is for publication, you may find that you get frustrated with how long it takes and get despondent with it.

Knowledge, as the old Foucault might say, is Power. Knowing your preference, sheds light on your shadow, and that can only be a good thing, as once you can see it, you can choose to do something about it.

So, what is YOUR writing motivation? Are you in for the process or for the product? I’d love to know.

What about your writing?

If you are interested in finding some time for your writing, why not join one of our free weekly writing rooms – either on a Tuesday evening at 8pm or a Friday lunchtime at 12pm?

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