REVIEW: WRITE TIME: GUIDE TO THE CREATIVE PROCESS BY KENNETH ATCHITY
I’ve reviewed many books about the writing process, from the broad and overarching to the highly specialized, focused on a singular step of the journey. I’ve read the greats’ musings on everything from formulating the idea, to plotting it out, to emphasizing the emotional element, to remedies for writer’s block. Each is great in its own right, but what if I want a mentor to really make it personal, get in my head, delve into the intricacies of my own unique process, troubleshoot my pet neuroses that seem to chronically hold me back from reaching what I know to be my true potential, and clue me in on how to harness and optimize the writer’s most precious resource; time. Simple request, right? Simple for Kenneth Atchity, author of Write Time: Guide to the Creative Process, from Vision through Revision – and Beyond.
This book reads like a writer’s counseling session (the constructive kind), in every sense of that term; from cold hard business prudence strategies to processing deep-seated self-defeating thoughts. It grabs you from the Author’s Note which, as with any great forward or introduction, does more than just preview what’s to come. Dr. Atchity‘s credibility is firmly established here. He lets us know that 1) he feels our pain, and understands what we’re going through as creative souls who want to be professional artists, and 2) he’s been around the block enough times to know how to get us to where we want to be.
Once we get rolling, Atchity dispenses with the BS right out of the gate and lets us know that, while writing might be based on intuition and creative passions, it’s a craft and a discipline that must be honed through a rigorous and deliberate regimen. But here’s the good news – he’s going to take you by the hand and lead you through the process of establishing a productive and rewarding routine, and he’s going to leverage your own psychology to do it, turning your debilitating issues and hangups to your advantage. The book takes a deep dive into the human mind, points out how its natural workings must be considered, accommodated, and manipulated to develop habits and tricks to make your mental apparatus work for you instead of against you in achieving your creative goals, and some of his strategies will really surprise you!
Atchity provides an intriguing illustration of the interplay between parts of the brain that activates the motive power of creation. Just as conflict is the foundation of story, so it’s also the spark that sets your creative will into motion – this is the conflict between your rational faculties (which he nicknames the Continent of Reason) and your free-wheeling intuition (dubbed the Islands of Consciousness). The original quirky ideas of the islands are translated into the comprehensible and relatable language of the Continent through the intermediary function he calls the Managing Editor. Getting a grasp on these dynamics allows us to work toward striking a balance between “tricking” our brains into action and riding the wave of their natural functioning to channel our mental energy into our writing. Sound intriguing? That’s just the beginning!
As the title indicates, Write Time charts a detailed path to writing success, leaving no stone unturned, from initial dream all the way to polished product. It’s a comprehensive guide to the creative, technical, business, and personal aspects of the craft. Sound too rigid and formulaic for your taste? What if I told you it entails A LOT of variation at the numerous stages, and more than a few mandated vacations? The aim isn’t that you match a prescribed workflow to the letter. It’s to show you a proven real-world model and leave you to dovetail what’s useful with your own strengths, fill in any gaps in your process, make adjustments, and replace what’s not working for you. This section is all about establishing a writing agenda that your mind is geared to stick to and thrive on, and how to not become a statistic who perpetually and eternally has a “work in progress.”
Of course, one of the main threads of the book is the teaching of time management. It’ll show that you don’t really lack the time to achieve your writing goals. The time is there, you’re just not coordinating your cognitive resources in such a way to generate the necessary output within that time. Maintaining a reasonable perspective on the work/ time relationship is paramount. There are methods of mindset, planning, strategy, prioritizing, and step-by-step exercises to optimize your available chunks of time (even if you have to steal them). This chapter alone is worth the price of the book.
From there the writing process begins, and we’re off to the races. Here’s what’s in store as you make your way through Write Time:
- Approaching drafting and revision
- Style – how it comes about, and its rightful place in the writer’s hierarchy of values (pretty low, but valuable)
- A sample step by step process of creating a nonfiction book, explaining the reasons for the order, actions, and method at each waypoint; with an accompanying comparison to fiction writing
- The most important elements of fiction, and how to pack your story with maximum drama by tapping into your intuition to find its natural shape and structure (which has nothing to do with chronology)
- What your main priority should be to succeed in writing (Hint: It’s not using big words and feeling clever)
- A lengthy chapter on getting your book published. Don’t make the mistake of dismissing and skipping this one as irrelevant to the plight of a screenwriter. There’s a wealth of information here about…
- Dealing with gatekeepers with respect and professionalism (in person and through correspondence such as query letters and emails)
- Legal forms and contracts for deal-making
- Handling rejection, and the higher pressure situation of handling acceptance
- Seeking representation, consulting attorneys
- Customizing your workspace.
- The importance of understanding mythology for shaping and clarifying your story, with a striking illustration of how a film can go astray due to the inconsistent retelling of a myth.
- Methods and tricks for getting in touch with your subconscious through dreamwork and other avenues, along with some brilliant case studies of psychological techniques employed by writers having story problems, that’ll leave you inspired and cracking up.
- Overcoming psychological traumas of the past by channeling them into our writing and bridging the gap between conscious and unconscious.
- Some nice practical nitty-gritty stuff on screenwriting – character development, structure, twists, layers of effective storytelling; all through the prism of the key questions on the minds of the producers/ executives evaluating and vetting your work for production and/ or broadcast.
- The card system revisited, with workflow tips distinguishing the processes of novels vs. screenplays.
- Insights about revising (keep a particular eye out for the “conflict or cut” rule), and how many revisions are enough.
- The crucial golden Hollywood skill of pitching and how it must not be overlooked in one’s pursuit of a screenwriting career, with a really fun illustration of the pitch-to-production process (it involves a relay race).
- A baker’s dozen of straightforward rules for breaking into Hollywood; covering the personal, psychological, mindset, business, and more.
- A critical therapeutic chapter on Recapturing Creativity – what to do when your motivation to create (inevitably) wanes. A veritable troubleshooting manual for the writer’s perspective. Something to be revisited any time you feel you’ve lost your way.
- He closes with an amazing collection of his favorite quotes from great figures to leave the reader feeling inspired, encouraged, and motivated to carry on with the struggle.
Overall, Write Time amounts to a rather economical mentoring session with a writing sage who’s been there, done that, and wants us to get there too. It’s a premium blend of tough love, advice, encouragement, clarification, and delusion-busting. It approaches the needs of the writer from every angle and gives us what we’re yearning for, whatever that may be. For the writer at any stage of the game looking for guidance, this one is not to be missed.