At the risk of sounding vague (or overly polite) I had the chance to read/hear a few writers describe the mechanics of their work recently. To clarify, by writers I mean "fiction writers," and by mechanics, I mean how the story happens (character, plot, narrative, conflict, development) rather than things about process (how writing happens) or business (how to live/publish). This was, as you might imagine, kind of awkward because the people who write the stories aren't the best judges of what actually happens.
There are lots of reasons for this: readers are complex and contextually constrained (as are authours), and creators are too close to the story and the characters to really see have a productive perspective on what we're writing. We can talk about what we meant to write, how we intended for a story to work, but while short measures of this kind of analysis aren't harmful, longer amounts of this kind of talking is pretty unproductive because it detracts from the reader's freedom and the ability of the text to stand on its own.
This isn't to say that I'm opposed to writers talking about their work, but I think there are some kinds of discussion that work better. The first is your critical focus: it's great when people talk about the ideas that linger in their minds when they're writing the story. These are the big issues that your characters represent/grapple with, but stated in more concrete terms in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars books, this would include nationalism, interstellar colonization, the challenges of a massively overgrown population, the problem of survival on a different world. In Cory Doctorow's latest (Little Brother) the list of critical issues includes: political action, post-9/11 police powers, law enforcement statistics, youth identity. There's lots of stuff to talk about, without talking about the character or plot development process.
The second kind of conversation is about process. Fiction writers aren't the only people who write, and are certainly not the only kind of information workers in the contemporary world. As a result how we work, how we are able to summon creativity, how we manage both creation and business are all things that have a broad appeal, and a lot of my writing about productivity and process here falls into this layout. While there's such thing as too much process talk, there's a way to write about work and process that empowers and encourages lots of other people who do similar work. Where as talking about critical issues provides the opportunity to engage the content of the story, talking about process gives you the chance to communicate your experience of telling the story, without needing to offer analysis' of the text itself.
Maybe my response is my way of dealing with both "being a writer," and believing in idea that "the author is dead." Maybe this is sound advice, just because: I'm not sure.
Interestingly these two areas also represent the areas that writers often find work talking about/writing columns about. The best non-fiction writing that I've read from fiction writers are often essays that they write about what they interested in (and also write fiction about,) and while I don't have experience at fiction writing workshops process of one sort or another is a big part of what happens at workshops, I'd expect.
I think part of the issue is that the mechanics of stories, is something that we both know a lot about intellectually, and something that we have to do very instinctively. I know what makes characters work, what holds plots together, I can talk a lot about how to make stories and characters better, but when I'm "creating," it's all gut instinct and I have to go back and edit (even outlines) into shape. My current goal, is not to "learn more about writing," but "hone my instincts" (or "feel better") about writing. Maybe the instinctive writing approach means that (at least of our own writing) our ability to explain what's happening becomes a bit...
I'm not sure. All very interesting. Onward and Upward!