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Tag: the writing process

On making unconventional art

“There’s this idea that at some point you master how to tell basic stories, and then you can tell masterful stories. But that’s not true. You never master how to tell a basic story. In fact, you never master any part of writing. Mastering something implies that you can do it again and again, without flaws. […]

“Nathalie Sarraute never wrote a ‘standard’ novel with regular rising tension and beginnings and ends and all of that regular stuff, and I don’t believe there’s any evidence that she was capable of that. I don’t think that a person improves as an artist by producing work that they don’t care about ‘just for practice.’ I believe that you always, from the beginning, have to be aiming at doing something that interests you. And some people just aren’t ever going to be able to interest themselves in the standard forms and models for fiction.”

—Rahul Kanakia (x)

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As simple as that

“So I made a deal with myself: whenever I thought of an idea for this untitled story, I’d write it down. And if I ever got the point at which the world was built well enough to make it into a story, I’d go for it.”

—Jon Bois on his story “17776” (x)

On the purpose of a first draft

Shitty first draft” is a misnomer

A rough draft isn’t just a shitty story, any more than a painter’s preparatory sketch is just a shitty painting. Like a sketch, a draft is its own kind of thing: not a lesser version of the finished story, but a guide for making the finished story.

Once I started thinking of my rough drafts as preparatory sketches, I stopped fretting over how “bad” they were.

—Wrex (x)

On first drafts

“Writers always say that the first draft is just raw material. You put it down on paper, and then you change it. But I’ve never believed it. I think if you don’t have a certain energy in your first draft: the voice, at the very least, then it’s hard to revise that energy into existence.”

—Rahul Kanakia (x)

On submitting writing for publication

“I think of submitting as being about developing the habit of continuing on, despite adverse reactions. Sometimes, when you don’t believe in yourself, when nothing is selling, when you’re not getting a positive notice from any quarter, the only thing that’s left to you is habit. Even if you don’t believe in yourself, the habit of writing and the habit of submitting can carry you through to a better place.”

—Rahul Kanakia (x)

On process

“I have no process; if I did have a process, I would have no confidence in the process. I didn’t do any of the things you’re supposed to do when writing. I didn’t a have an office or separate room in which to write. I didn’t have a desk. I sat on the floor, or on a zafu on its side, or on the porch, or out back, or at the coffee shop, or at the wine bar. I didn’t write every day and certainly not at the same time every day. I was working full time and sometimes more than full time at a job unrelated to art or teaching or writing. I didn’t go to any retreats or residencies or conferences. I checked my email in mid-sentence. Frequently. I didn’t write straight from my gut, so-to-speak—I thought as deeply as I could about the book on every level—sentence, theme, character, overall structure, and still, I might add, ended up surprised by the results and making discoveries I cannot explain and that I’m relying on readers to tell me about. I reread and studied carefully my favorite novels. I listened to a couple of them on audio, when I needed my hands free to do things like laundry or painting. I read a few dozen other novels, too. I simultaneously worked on another book (Love in the Anthropocene, cowritten with Dale Jamieson). I interrupted myself continually to garden, make elaborate dinners, renovate the house, go running, and tend my own dying father. I got pregnant. I slept on my side for eighteen hours a day during the last three months of the pregnancy and didn’t write or read a thing, I mostly just drooled. Then I had twins. I moved twice, once selling and once buying a house. I had way too many people looking at early drafts. I just kept swimming in the mess until it all felt more or less right. And then it was time for it to go into production and I had to stop.  It’s all a mystery and a mess and that’s why I do it. This is both the source of and the salve for all the anxiety involved. It’s awful and wonderful. It’s like when you’re crying so hard you start laughing. There should be more words like bittersweet.”

—Bonnie Nadzam (x)

On askewness (and rationalization)

“I’m drawn to art in which things are a little askew. Straight realism isn’t very interesting to me; I like to see the interference of consciousness, the way perception is muddied by a unique interpreting mind. El Greco’s paintings are eccentric, strange, willful; I loved them. Standing in front of his Portrait of Fray Hortensio, I couldn’t help wondering what an editor would make of it: the obviously strange angle of the back of the chair, for instance, or the weird positioning of the hands. Wouldn’t an editor want to make those less strange, to straighten those things out? And yet wasn’t their strangeness the key to the greatness of the painting?

“A favorite teacher of mine in music school, a composer, used to talk about the importance of the right wrong note, the eccentricity that both surprises and feels immediately inevitable. I’m suspicious of the arguments we make to justify our opinions about art, especially art we’ve made. I’m not particularly given to confidence in my judgment; I can justify anything, I sometimes think. Working on revisions to my novel, I found that I couldn’t judge the validity of my editor’s criticisms until I had worked through a new version of a passage. Only then, when I had done the work—I always resist work, I’m the laziest person I know—could I see the virtues and flaws of what I had made.”

—Garth Greenwell (here, found via The Millions)

Two weeks isn’t quickly?!

“The story [‘The Woman in the Window’] evolved over a period of time, perhaps two weeks. It is usually the case that a character’s past self fills in, as one develops him; it’s like a dream in which initially things seem thin and sketchy but, as you stare at them, they begin to solidify, to take on weight, depth and substance. Some patience is required for this ‘filling-in’—one doesn’t want to write too quickly.”

—Joyce Carol Oates (x)

On using your best material

“Years ago, I was talking to [Tony Earley] about his story, one of my favorite stories, ‘The Prophet from Jupiter.’ He said that he put everything he had into it. ‘I was tired of holding back,’ he said. His stories up to that point, he felt, had been good. But he wanted to write something truly great, an earth-shaker. So he put every last drop of himself, all of his best material, into a single story.

And it worked. ‘Prophet’ appeared in Harper’s, scored a National Magazine Award, and to this day is widely taught and anthologized.

There was a price. After he finished the story, he lay on the couch feeling emptied, carved out, certain he would never write anything again. This lasted for two weeks. And then the well filled back up.”

—Benjamin Percy (x)

On not writing

“I imagine it would be wiser professionally not to mention those years I spent not writing, years I spent doubting myself so fully that it was torture to pound out a page. But who else is going to tell that story? Many of the successful published writers I hear talk on panels at conferences make it sound as if they are writing machines, as if they haven’t taken a day off from writing in years. Part of my success as a writer was not writing. If I hadn’t spent all those years teaching and reading and editing the work of other writers, I am certain I wouldn’t be the writer, and person, I am today.”

—Julia Fierro (x), found via The Millions