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Tag: glimmer train

More time, less writing

“More time, yet less writing. Part of this has to do with the paradox of productivity that many of us are familiar with. I’m reminded of a corporate cliché I used to hear all the time: ‘If you really need something done, give it to someone busy to do.’ In speaking to other writers, I’ve learnt that my experience is far from uncommon. It seems that for many, the constraints of a day job, family, or other responsibilities provide a structure around which a writing routine can be eked out. Scarcity of time also leads one to guard fiercely whatever writing time one does have. Now that I finally have the luxury of time, I find myself only too prone to letting it slip away.”

—Rachel Heng (x)

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Short story: “Shadehill”

“Shadehill,” by Mark Hitz

Appeared in Glimmer Train #92, Winter 2015; this and another story won the author the $50,000 Keene Prize for Literature; it was also anthologized in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2016

A few thousand words; 10 and 2/3 pages in BANR

When I first read this I thought the girl had drowned, like her namesake, and that the grandfather’s unforgivable crime was neglect. Then, skimming through it a second time, I suddenly made the connection with the beaver—then the cemetery by the shooting range—then the grandfather’s refusal to wear glasses, and that terrible encounter at the funeral—and also “her poor unmade head” (I had to go back and check to make sure I’d gotten that word right, what a word, “unmade”). I like a story that makes me go back and reread parts of it, like a mystery novel that cleverly disguises its clues. The emotional journey, too—pardon the hackneyed and almost ludicrous expression—is excellent, like rising and falling music. I wouldn’t say I felt the sick horror and disorientation the family goes through, I’m more detached than that, but I feel like I understand the exact texture of their experience.

I find it interesting that before we see Ophelia’s twin go into the water, we learn that she survives. We just don’t know exactly what happens to her, which is suspense enough.

Tagging this “first-person minor narration” because I think the central character is the family as a whole, not the narrator.

I haven’t read anything from Glimmer Train in a long time—I dislike their use of author photos—but obviously they’re a very good magazine. They invited Hitz to write a short essay on craft, in which he said:

“The two things that have sustained me in my writing (which until recently has been mostly a private, even secretive activity) are my evolving obsessions with various works of literature in relationship to my life, and my own subjective discoveries regarding craft. To put it another way, the most important and lasting lessons I’ve learned about writing were not imparted to me, but rather won through the long, circular process of reading closely, putting words to paper (or failing to put words to paper), and doing my best to return everything to life. Many of these personal lessons, which I am constantly revising, would likely sound simplistic, or even absurd, if I tried to explain them here.”

The humblest commentary on craft is, in my opinion, the best. (Edited to add: Turns out he said this and I quoted it way back in 2013.)

Revising vs. editing

Don’t mistake revising for editing. Editing is often small, tiny, and eradicating. Revision can be large, grandiose, and sweeping.”

—Amina Gautier (x)

I’ve never been good at these distinctions, but this makes sense. Rewriting > revising > editing > copy editing.

On a writer’s obligation to their parents

“I often wonder what my obligations are to my parents when it comes to my writing. I assume most people would say I’m not obligated to sugarcoat things, that my primary responsibility is just to do my best to create characters that are three-dimensional and rendered with empathy. Often, when I’m awake at 3:00 a.m., I tell myself I’ve accomplished that goal, that many readers have told me they feel the characters in my book are drawn with compassion. This fact, coupled with the fact that my book is fiction, usually makes me feel better, but there are times when nothing I tell myself allays the guilt.

“In a recent review of [the author’s collection of linked stories] Outside Is the Ocean, Paul La Farge called Heike, my fictional mother, ‘one of fiction’s great bad mothers.’ […]

“People who know my mother have told me the risk of showing her the book isn’t worth it. They think the chances are low that she would see the portrayal of Heike as nuanced and compassionate, that it is likely she would latch onto one of the less flattering moments in the book, without registering the overall arc.”

—Matthew Lansburgh (x)

Another vote for daydreaming as preparation for creative work

“When I’m at the desk formally writing, there isn’t a second when my fingers are not moving. Rapidly. Percussively. There’s not a second of ‘gee, what would I like to do now’ or ‘darn, I am stuck.’

“There are a bunch of reasons for that, but one of them is because I write so much in my head while I walk that I am typing from something that is already there, that is given somewhat new form—and entirely new components can arise—as I sit at the desk. But on top of that, my entire process has become more compact because for dozens of hours each week, I’ve been writing as I do something else. And, consequently, writing is easier for me, an extension of the very biological necessities of my existence, like breathing oxygen or sweating when I’m hot.”

—Colin Fleming (x)

On writers’ use of social media

This is an interesting short essay, and I think I agree with much of it, particularly this line: “If something matters to you, don’t treat it lightly—it’s not arrogant to care about your own progress.” But I’m not sure about this bit of advice:

“Limit what you share on social media. It’s not a platform that rewards merit alone. If you use it as a feedback mechanism, you’ll get false positives and false negatives. Not every 15-year-old with a 2500-dollar DSLR is a photographer, and not every 18-year-old with a blog is a writer. 25.6 thousand followers don’t make someone an artist. The value of art is not a matter of public opinion. Young people are taught to sell themselves. Don’t, and don’t buy everything other people sell. Keep your eyes on your own plate. Work until the work speaks for itself.”

It seems to me that social media is almost essential these days for new writers, not because it hones their craft (though it can) or because it gives valuable feedback (though I think it can), but simply as a marketing tool.

What makes a scene work or fail

“When you go to the doctor and tell him that you have a pain in your elbow, it is the quack who takes out his scalpel and starts to operate on the elbow.[…] [A]n experienced doctor studies you, takes an x-ray, and determines that the cause of the pain is probably a pinched nerve up in your shoulder—you just happen to feel it in your elbow.[…] Audiences are like that. When you ask the direct question, ‘What was your least favorite scene?’ and eighty percent of the people are in agreement about one scene they do not like, the impulse is to ‘fix’ the scene or cut it out. But the chances are that scene is fine. Instead, the problem may be that the audience simply didn’t understand something that they needed to know for the scene to work.”

—Walter Murch, as quoted here

On distractions from writing

“I don’t always have the luxury to set aside a couple of hours for writing, so in the past when I did get to set those hours aside, and failed to focus, I could be especially harsh on myself. A real writer wouldn’t get off track like this, I told myself, hoping to guilt myself into focusing. Except when I thought these words, instead of feeling like getting back on track, I just began to feel less like a real writer.

“So I tried a new approach. I went with the distraction. I decided that distraction did not have to be something to beat myself up over. It could be an asset. It could even be a kind of craft tool. After all, the more I let my mind wanderings play out, the more I noticed that most of my thoughts also had to do with narrative: A plot twist in the news. A rejected suitor on The Bachelorette’s desperate attempt to rewrite the story of who he was. If I gave it time, all of my distractions funneled themselves into something like fiction. A part of my mind kept monkeying toward story, even when it was avoiding the story I actually was trying to write. When I let these distractions happen, and didn’t fight them, they often led me back to an interest in narrative, and eventually an interest in my narrative, the story I was trying to tell in the first place.”

—Lee Conell (x)

On daily momentum

“[F]or me, making progress on a book, and not getting overwhelmed and derailed by the daunting task of writing an entire book, comes down to finding, achieving, and maintaining a sense of daily momentum—no matter if the progress is large or small, and most of the time, in my case at least, it’s the latter situation.”

—Andrew Roe (x)

On trusting one’s temperament

“I don’t write every day—I write when I’m burning with an idea. I don’t really want to write novels—I prefer stories. These are temperamental issues. When I was young I didn’t trust my temperament, or I didn’t understand it, and therefore wasted time fretting about what I didn’t do well rather than simply trusting what I did do well.”

—Antonya Nelson (x)