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Tag: the writing process

Short story: “Though She Be But Little”

“Though She Be But Little,” by C. S. E. Cooney

Appeared in Uncanny Magazine, Issue Eighteen, September/October 2017; online here

5792 words

What an odd story. I started reading it in an idle moment and then couldn’t stop. The mysterious silver sky that turns everyone into what they really are is a great device.

I had never heard of Bunco, so some bits of the story were more opaque to me than others.

Cooney on the creative process:

I’d almost forgotten the origin story of this story by the time I finally finished it three years later. I’ve reconstructed most of the pieces since then, but what I can tell you for sure about it is, when I stumbled across the first three scenes from ‘Though She Be But Little’ in January earlier this year (then titled ‘The Post-Argentum Face-Off of Emma Anne and the Loping Man’), when I was looking for inspiration in my ‘To Be Finished’ folder, I had no idea where this story came from, why I wrote it, what I was thinking, and how the heck I meant to finish it. 

“Totally clueless. I just read through it, barked out a giggle-cuss, and then Carlos Hernandez, who was in the other room asked, ‘What happened? Why are you laughing?’ 

“To which I replied something like, ‘I just found the weirdest half of a story I ever wrote in my whole life—including The Big Bah-Ha!—which is saying something!!!—and I have no memory of writing it.’

“I was having the experience, I realized, of coming to my own writing the way an absolute stranger would.”

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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 second person

“I’ve made a lot of use of second person lately, and I think one of the reasons why it attracts me is that it’s direct communication with the reader in a way that no other POV is. I know a lot of people aren’t overly fond of it, and I think a lot of the time it’s not done particularly well, but as a stylistic tool I love it. This story felt very immediate, and of course it’s an old idea that one thing that happens in the moments before death is a turning-inward, a taking of inventory. You have your last moments of communication with yourself as well as others. So it felt natural to go that way. I didn’t really think about the specifics of why until now, honestly.”

—Sunny Moraine (x), about “What Glistens Back”

On the terror and hurt of writing

“To be honest, this story terrifies me for two reasons; one, because it’s written in blood; and two, it’s written about blood. I hurt myself writing ‘Jonny Appleseed.’ I write because I need to—because I haven’t ever seen or heard this story before[….]”

—Joshua Whitehead

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)

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)