Process vs. Event

No, this isn’t a NaNoWriMo post. Well, not really, though it touches on that. This actually started when my darling and I were discussing the need to reshelve books. In our house, this can become a big deal – not just because we like to pull out old favourites to read, but because Peter pulls out lots of books to check on facts while researching (Many things for his westerns are much easier to look up in the right reference book instead of spending hours searching on the web, and same for military history research that gets transmuted into milSF.)

Peter has stated that he doesn’t have time to reshelve all the books, in addition to everything else he’s doing… and when I expressed puzzlement about what’s so time-consuming about picking up two books while waiting for the tea kettle to boil, he was as confused as I was. To him, “reshelve the books” means to sort by shelving category and alphabetize all the loose books, then start slotting them in while pulling entire shelves of books off and stacking them on the floor to make sure each shelf has room from A to Z, and culling any excess books that he can let go without breaking his heart or needing to replace, so the whole collections still fits on the bookshelves…

So, basically, two to three days of work, solid, with no writing getting done.

This is the utter divide between process (just reshelve a couple books when you have time, and when you find you don’t need or care for a book, add it to the charity donation pile) and event.

Neither is wrong, per se, and both have their place. Process keeps things from getting out of hand instead of having stacks of books the cats are knocking over and empty shelves, but eventually it’ll get harder and harder – until you find you’re wasting lots of time looking for a place to put books on overstuffed shelves, and not getting books shelved. It also rarely arrives at a state of completion, because you’re only making incremental progress. Event is great at getting everything done at once, reset and giving you a fresh start – but it’s very expensive in time, effort, labour, and space.

Unless you’re married to someone who believes in the opposite style from you, it’s an individual choice, and neither is “right” or “wrong.” For us, we’ll probably work out a compromise (marriage is like that.)

How about writing?

Again, it’s a question of individual style. For example, Larry Correia goes to his office every day, five days a week, keeping regular office hours, and spends the time writing or editing. John Ringo, on the other hand, tends to not write for quite a while, followed by sitting there in the dark and pre-writing in his brain – assembling the story and bringing it to life. And once it’s there, whole, in his mind, he binge-writes the whole thing down onto paper, pouring out wordcount that is awe-inspiring  until it’s done. Process vs. event… and both of them are great writers,

In our house, Peter plugs away at stories every day, and writing the blog, and the nitty gritty of being a one-man publishing company. I tackle each book blurb as an individual event, where I have to read the thing, then try to write a blurb,  and after batting it back and forth a couple times, call it good. And sometimes I stare at the same book for weeks while my brain has nothing but static roaring between the ears, and nothing comes out for the blurb put doodles on the page margins. I often worry that I just won’t be able to come up with anything at all… (which is one of the reasons that I don’t charge. Because I’m not sure I can deliver.)

My book writing is a muddled mix. If I try to sit down each day and write a thousand words, I usually end up with a blinking cursor on an empty notepad, or a bunch of ink doodles all over a word-free page. The days I have something, I write it. Eventually, a bunch of short scenes and snippets and a character or two start coalescing, and from that muddle comes the actual story. And once I have a key handful of scenes and the characters, I can then sit and spend a couple months plugging away at it, every day, until it’s done.

And then there’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) – the epitome of writing your book as an event. This is not a bad thing; it helps a lot of people actually accomplish writing their story. Process writers tend to dislike or be puzzled by the whole thing, but there are a lot of writers who use it as an aid to actually getting a backburnered book written.

(Interestingly enough, I’ve met several authors who started off doing NaNoWriMo to write… but then as they start writing more often, it slips to “finish That Story”, or NaNoEditMo. They’ve moved from event to process.)

Then there’s editing. Some writers write the first draft straight through, and then go back and edit everything, one giant pass at a time. Other do what Dean Wesley Smith calls “cycling” – every time he comes back to a draft, he looks over what he wrote the session before, and cleans up typos & do line edits if necessary, while using that to get himself back into the mindset and flow of the story. This, whether the break is a couple hours for a nap or dinner, or overnight or longer. This tends to produce drafts that may need editing at the very beginning and very end, but the rest is fairly well-edited already when you hit the end.

Do you prefer event or process for writing or editing? Or both?


  1. I am tortured by having several books worth of story hounding me to be written. Sometimes, I’ll take a break to write chapters that are particularly bugging me. Others, I have to discipline myself to write the parts of the story that are like eating your vegetables – needed, but not as fun. I tell myself that I gotta finish those before I return to the fun stuff.

    1. I’ve found that if a scene feels like eating your vegetables, nine times out of ten it’s a scene that doesn’t need to be there.

      1. Once you get good enough. Sometimes it’s shirking developing a necessary skill.

        And sometimes you’re just in a bad mood.

  2. I think I fall into this somewhere in between. Mostly I think about the story until it’s pretty clear in my mind and then start working on it start to finish. Once in a while, though, a particular scene burns very bright in my mind and I’ll jump to it just to get it down while I’m enthused and the imagery is clear. Then I go back to my systematic method. Editing is similar. I do most of my heavy editing after the entire story is complete. I do, however, read through my previous day’s work and fix a few things that jump out at me like missing words. This has the added advantage of helping me maintain the atmosphere of the scene I was working on, and clarifying where I was at in the main event of the scene.

  3. I guess I’m an event writer. I started doing NaNo because I wanted to prove to myself that I could write 50K words in a month and I kept doing it to maintain that ability. Then I started doing it during other months because I didn’t always have time in November to commit to writing 50K words. Now, when I have a book that needs to be written, I sit down and write it. A 65K first draft usually takes me 6 weeks – once I’m committed. It’s committing myself that usually screws me up. I was supposed to have this book’s first draft done by Saturday, but my commitment fell apart. :shrug: It’ll get done. I write ’em all the way through, then edit them all the way through, then edit them all the way through then edit… you get the gist. ;o)

    As for books, having books laying all over would drive me batty. But I used to work in a library. I’ve gotten to where I’m okay with everything not being alphabetical, but it’s all grouped by author and by genre (or in NF, by general topic).

  4. I have events within the process. I have to have office hours where I put rump into chair and write. What do I write? Whatever comes to mind, be it the official WiP or the blog or something that ambushed me and that I need to get down before I can return to what I’m supposed to be doing. The next day I look over what I’ve done, tidy the obvious errors, and start writing. If I really get hit by a story, or have a deadline looming, then it’s all event until the book or short-story is done.

  5. I definitely prefer process for book shelving, though mine isn’t as intense as Peter’s. We used to have a maid who shelved books at random, which meant a mad scramble to collect and hide all the library books before they were lost somewhere like the History of Radar shelf. But that wasn’t as bad as the time she turned into a Process Person and got into my study. I came home to find roughly a thousand books neatly organized… by size and color.

    As for writing… it’s a bit of both, I think. I don’t skip around writing on different books or even writing disconnected scenes from the same book: it’s more of a “start at the beginning and go on until the end” process. And I write every day… well, every day that isn’t full of children and grandchildren. But that writing is heavily dependent on having had the next bit of the story growing in my head; lose more than a couple of days to non-writing, and I have to re-read what I’ve already written to get started again.

    1. “I came home to find roughly a thousand books neatly organized… by size and color.” 😮😮😮

      I can’t stand it when people I KNOW mess with the organization. I would have… had a talk with her. With threats of being fired.

  6. Speaking of writing, and editing… if all goes well I will be launching my YouTube channel tomorrow or Tuesday.

  7. I’ve reminded of continuous and batch manufacturing.

    I’m bad at both process and event creative writing.

    I don’t manage my time well enough to have a consistent time budget for creative writing, or for a bunch of other tertiary projects. I’ve produced creative writing in bursts, but very short pieces. For longer, I seem to need to both make an outline and sustain production over several sessions. Not really something I’ve managed yet. Or, rather, as soon as I can hit a target word count, I set higher as what I haven’t managed to do.

  8. I tend to write as a process. I’ve gotten better about starting at the beginning of a story and working my way through it, but I’m also a pantser, so the story can drift over time. But I try to edit a bit as I go, so it’s not a massive job at the end.

    And I’m much happier when I can write a little every day. Makes me feel like I’m making progress.

  9. I’m lazy. Until the Muse gets out the spurs and bull whip. _Most_ of the time I’m process. I’ll write a scene, then wander away. If it’s been too long, I have to start forcing myself to get off the internet and write a thousand words a day, then it’ll usually settle down to where I automatically do it because I like to write.

    NaNoWriMo, for me is binge pantsing, and my yearly training in “write it, finish it, then edit.” It doen’t fell like an “event” because of the total lack of any planning involved.

  10. Huh, I guess I do cycling. I never knew there was a word for it. I find that empty void of white page very intimidating, so being able to go back and see written pages helps a lot. I also tend to write a chapter at a time and then leave it alone for a while (unless I’m on a kick), so the review helps me to figure out where I left off .

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