Product or Process–Which Kind of Writer Are You?

While I enjoyed knitting this Swing Thing coat for my 4-year-old, it was even more exciting to watch her wear it for the first time.

There are two types of knitters. Product knitters love the finished product. That’s their reason for knitting: a beautiful object to wear or give away. Process knitters prefer the act to the end result. They knit for the stitches, not for the resulting scarf.

I’m a product knitter. I enjoy knitting, but the tangible result is more important to me than the act of construction. Shawls and hats and sweaters and scarves make me happy, and I’d likely get the same kind of lift from sewing or quilting or another creative pastime.

With novels, there’s often such a long haul between the original idea and the finished product. The creative journey really has to be at least partly about the process, especially if you don’t have an audience waiting. A novel–the product–only becomes fully realized when you have readers to respond to it. Otherwise, it’s a computer file or a stack of handwritten pages.

Many people begin their writing career with stars in their eyes about what might happen to the product. The big-name agent. The publishing contract. The bestseller. Or the idea that a stranger in another city might read your words and feel moved by them. But then some of us, or perhaps all of us, fall in love with the process of putting words down on a page and shaping the story like a carefully pruned topiary.

It took me seven years to write my last novel, BODY COPY, and the finished product is sitting in a file on my computer. I don’t even have a printed copy. Soon after I finished, I threw myself into imagining a new fictional world, and that effort has become my primary focus. I’m definitely a process writer.

Certainly it’s much easier to give your work a public showing these days with the rise of ebooks and indie publishing–especially compared to the struggling traditional publishing houses. Writers can get their work into the hands of eager readers without waiting for a gatekeeper’s nod of approval. Anthony Lee Collins, the serial fiction author, is a great example of creating a strong product and getting it directly to readers by publishing installments on the Internet. Andย of course there are myriad outlets for short stories and essays, in print and online.

Even though I’m a process writer, I do think about dusting off BODY COPY and trying to get it out in the world, whether that’s through approaching traditional channels or publishing it myself. It does seem sad to have spent seven years working on a product only to keep in a quiet Word file.

Are you a process writer or a product writer? If you’re a product writer, I’d love to hear what you do with your books or stories when they’re finished. Have you published them or shared them with friends or a critique group? If you’re a process writer, how often do you finish a novel? Have you done anything with your finished manuscript(s)?


About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
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21 Responses to Product or Process–Which Kind of Writer Are You?

  1. Oh, I’m much more of a product writer, which is probably why my works have so far turned out so short! I’m learning that impatience is holding me back in a lot of ways though, so hopefully I’ll soon be a more process writer.

    • I think as journalists we have to be product writers, Shasta! There’s no time to invest in the process because there’s always another deadline–and yes, the printed word is the goal of each day in the business. Maybe I need to write another post about how I used to be a product writer for work. I hadn’t thought of that until your comment.

  2. This is an EXCELLENT post! And you are not the only one who took seven years to write a novel! Mine is a historical, The Keeper of the Crystal Spring, and was written with my sister and published by Viking Penguin, and was a Doubleday Book-of-the-Month Club selection. Then I got into storytelling, writing storytelling anthologies, raising kids, etc. Now that I’m back into fiction, I find the publishing world has really changed. It took me seven years to finish my second novel, Real Troopers, which is contemporary women’s fiction. It’s a lot harder to sell a book these days, but I am not going to let this one sit in a drawer. I write what I love and once I get going, I enjoy the process, but if I didn’t intend to sell and share the book with readers, I wouldn’t do it, because it is HARD WORK.

    Laura, dust off that book. Update it, if necessary, and let it see the light of day! If it is harder to get published, there are many more ways to become published. Look up Bob Mayer’s blog, and Kristen Lamb’s blog and Susan Kiernan-Lewis, who is an indie writer. Never give up! Seven years of blood, sweat, and tears is too big an investment not to reap the reward. I am going to try to go the traditional route with the one I am just finishing up, but if that doesn’t work out, you can be sure that I will be marketing it as an indie and an e-book. I will have to learn how to do it, and make an educated choice, but I will do it. Best of luck!

    • Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment and your cheerleading, Naomi! Your book sounds amazing. I will put it on my to-read list! I went from literary/women’s fiction to historical and you’ve gone the other way–so I feel like you’re a kindred spirit.

      Yes the publishing world has changed a lot. Your point about novel writing being hard work is a good reminder that I should fight for BODY COPY, whether that means sending it out to agents or figuring out an indie method. I still believe in it, although I’m a year and a half into a new novel that has taught me a lot about plotting and the hero’s journey. It will be interesting to go back into that manuscript to see what kind of revisions I might want to make. Thanks for the push in that direction!

      I follow Kristen Lamb but will check out Bob Mayer and Susan Kiernan-Lewis. Thanks for the great ideas.

  3. Up until recently I didn’t even consider myself a writer, only a person with a story. It was my story, my life story. I wrote it never thinking anyone except myself and a handful of family members would read it.
    While living in The Hague a few years back, I attended some ‘Write your life stories’ workshops with Jo Parfitt, who is a teacher and publishing consultant. I quickly sent her my story for editing. Specializing in books written by expats, my story found the perfect home at Summertime Publishing.
    I’m heading back to The Hague on April 20, for my book launch at the American Book Center there. In case anyone’s interested my book is called, Fly Away Home, by Maggie Myklebust.
    So I guess I’m a process, turned product writer now!

    • Fly Away Home sounds great, Maggie! Especially as a fellow Jersey girl, I am excited for your upcoming book launch. It sounds like a great book! Congrats on your transition from process to product. I hope you stop by again and let us know how it feels to have your story out in the world.

  4. Interesting that you’re a product knitter but a process writer.

    I’m a process writer, as you could probably tell (and thanks for the shout-out ๐Ÿ™‚ ).

    My two completed novels have each taken fifteen years to complete (it was the same fifteen years — so I guess it averages to 7.5). Both are available for readers (one for sale and one for free on the web).

    I agree with Naomi — process or product or whatever, get that puppy out there. It’s a great feeling, plus it stops you from going back and fiddling with it when you should be writing something new. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Yes, that’s very interesting, Anthony. Perhaps I’m a product knitter because it’s such a physical craft–feeling and touching the yarn, and then wearing the sweater or scarf. It also feels good to have an object to hold that you’ve put time in. (Doing dishes never seems to create anything, you know?) I suppose I’d be transformed instantly into a product writer the moment I held a hard copy of my book…

      You are a process writer, but you aren’t ignoring the product–and that’s excellent. I appreciate the reminder from you and from Naomi about getting my book out in the world. Maybe I’ll open it back up and think about what to do with it. Thanks, as always, for the interesting thoughts!

      • I’ll tell a quick knitting story (I hope I haven’t told it here before).

        My last g/f happened to be in Houston for a artist residency when Katrina hit, and a lot of refugees ended up in the Astrodome, which was used a huge refugee shelter for quite a while. She went as one of a group of people to teach people there how to knit. The idea was that 1) knitting is known to be relaxing in times of stress, and 2) it’s really useful for people who have escaped with their lives but without their possessions to be able to make clothes they can wear.

        So, both process and product. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Crystal says:

    As you well know my dear friend, I am a process knitter. Addictively so. But as I have only written notes on ideas for possible books, I guess I’m a pre-pre-pre process writer? Not that that really counts for anything. And, bring Body Copy out into the light!

  6. Process writer, for sure! I have so many stories, long/short/epic just gathering computer dust in the back regions of my laptop folders. Every now and then I tried to so something with them, but there are so many ideas in my head that I’m desparate to get them down.
    Its only recently that I’ve started worrying about doing anything with them. My ideas at present are self pubbing or submitting to some smaller publishing houses. Or both! What’s to stop me, right?

    • I hear you on the files gathering computer dust, Ileandra! As folks have said to me, there’s a lot to be said for getting the work out there since you’ve put time and heart and soul into it. There are so many options these days.

  7. Emma says:

    I’m a process writer but I would like to be more of a product writer and get the finished book out a little bit faster.

  8. This is a great question but a hard one for me to answer. I’d say I’m ultimately a product writer because I feel such a sense of peace and accomplishment when I’ve finished, as though I’ve just completed an absolutely necessary function, like eating. However, I also enjoy the process as soon as I get to the point where everything clicks into place and I know where I’m headed. Getting there is fun too.

  9. Pingback: A Page of Body Copy–Literary/Women’s Fiction | Laura Stanfill

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