What Drives the Writing Process?

Mark Tarallo


Different writers write in different ways, and for different reasons. The main reason I wrote a book on management and leadership was because I wanted to reduce the sum total of pain and suffering in the world, if ever so slightly. However quixotic the mission, it served me well as a source of motivation during the writing process.   


Norman Mailer once said that one of most difficult things about writing a book is that you begin from a standing start. To progress, the writer needs to find a sense of momentum from somewhere that keeps driving the writing forward.  


This driving force often varies depending on the type of book being written. When I wrote a novel many years ago, I started with an assortment of rough, fragmentary ideas for my storyline. Once these seeds were planted in my mind and I started writing, my subconscious started to generate ideas for scenes and plot twists for future chapters. Whenever an idea came to me, I slotted it into my outline. While writing Chapter 3, for example, I might have a few usable ideas for Chapter 6. By the time I actually started writing Chapter 6, the outline for it would be sufficiently fleshed out.


Memoir writer friends have told me about the pleasures of discovery that their process affords. The act of putting their lives on paper allows them to see people, events, and motivations in a new light, or at least a new context. And the process of taking an unwieldy life, filled with seemingly random events, and shaping it into a coherent narrative can be clarifying, satisfying, even life-affirming. Those pleasures, they say, keep their memoir moving forward.



But writing a nonfiction book of best-practice guidance for managers and leaders, as I was doing, was a horse of a different color. I had submitted an outline in my book proposal, which my publisher approved, so I had a map for moving forward. But such an outline is roughly akin to a training plan for running a marathon. It’s one thing to have a plan; it’s entirely another to grind out the running, day in and day out.


As a journalist, I had written, researched, and conducted interviews related to my book’s subject matter for many years. This gave me a large base of material to work with, and I was adding to it  all the time. But this also turned out to be a double-edged sword.


Somewhat surprisingly, writing magazine articles on management and leadership had been kind of a blast. I would be brimming over with fresh and interesting information from interviews and research, and this gave the writing process a certain verve, so that when I was finished, I felt like the pieces, at their best, had a subtle but vibrant rhythm to them. Feedback from those who read them often included a “This was a good read” type of comment.    


The chapters of my book were comparable in length to my magazine articles, but their form and structure were different, and they never seemed to sing like the articles did. Thus, the actual sentence-by-sentence writing of the chapters was not as pleasurable or engaging as was the article writing. It sometimes felt like I was rehashing leftovers.



Luckily, I had a different source of motivation driving the writing process. And that came from decades of stories about suffering, often told to me by dear friends.   


These stories began back when I was in my 20s. I was truly lucky to have many friends who were smart, creative, considerate, skilled, collaborative, not needlessly difficult, and a pleasure to be around. I knew that, in the working world, they would be huge assets and great team members at any organization they worked for: Yet, so many of them seemed to have managers that were making their work lives miserable. 


“Every night, I’m crying in my wine,” is how one friend told me she was dealing with her manager’s abusive attitude (she had not been a daily drinker previously). Another friend’s pleasant conversation would turn into bitter litanies about endured bad management when asked about work. Yet another friend said her morning showers were getting longer and longer as she delayed going into the office and dealing with her supervisor.   


Over the decades, these stories continued. Especially insidious was how this pain could mar some of the best parts of life. Friends relaxing in sand chairs on the beach would suddenly break into stories of torment at the hands of a manager. They sometimes seemed hard to escape: One friend with a damaging supervisor landed a new job, only to quickly find out his new manager was even worse. “Out of the frying pan and into the fire,” he said.



Some of these stories deserved their own subgenre: bad managerial incidents right before vacations. For example, one friend received a scathingly critical email from a manager the evening before a trip. Another received a disconcerting pre-vacation email that reflected how, in her words, her manager “reigns through terror.” No doubt both these emails firmly lodged themselves into the minds of my two friends while they were trying to enjoy their time off.


All these painful stories drove my writing process forward because I believed that my book contained the antidote to bad management. If I could make my submission deadline and see it through publication, maybe some of the managers who read it would not be a source of suffering for the workers whom they manage.


Maybe, they instead would be positive figures in their employees’ lives, the type of leader who will coach to strengths, recognize accomplishments, develop latent skill sets, and cultivate a team member’s sense of mission and purpose in their work. Maybe even the kind of manager whose pre-vacation emails read along the lines of: “Hope you enjoy your well-earned vacation to the fullest!”  


Author Bio:

Mark Tarallo is a Washington-based journalist, writer, and author of the new book Modern Management and Leadership: Best Practice Essentials (CRC Press/Taylor & Francis Group). Some of his  other published work can be found on his Goodread’s author’s page. His awards include an artist’s fellowship award from the D.C. Commission on Arts and Humanities and three Grand Awards in Writing from the APEX Excellence in Publishing competition.


For Highbrow Magazine


Image Sources:             

--Mark Tarallo

--Yan Krukov (Pexels, Creative Commons)

--Drew Coffman (Flickr, Creative Commons)


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