The Writing Process Blog Tour Stops Here

Welcome to the Writing Process Blog Tour! My Wordsmith Studio writer-friend J. Lynn Sheridan invited me to participate. J.Lynn is a poet (one with a sense of humor, I might add).

Blog Tour

Blog Tour

The blog tour moves forward, but if you haven’t already, you should check out J. Lynn’s Blog Tour Stop and another recent post, “Who Needs Poetry? Maybe Not You,” at her Writing on the Sun blog.

Now, on to the topic for this blog tour: Writing Process. The challenge is to answer three questions about my work:

What am I working on?

Several things at once.

I just returned from a week in Denver at The Lighthouse Writers Workshop, a terrific community of writers that sponsors a summer Lit Fest—two weeks jam-packed with craft seminars, workshops, and readings. (Look for a separate post about my Lighthouse experience soon.) This week, I’ve been revising the story I submitted to Antonya Nelson’s fiction workshop. Besides that revision, the novel start I’ve struggled with for the last year  keeps rearing its unruly head and demanding my attention. I think I may be on to something there, at last, in part because of some insights I had in Denver.

There are a couple of new story ideas floating around, too. I’m keeping a notebook beside the bed these nights in case some inspiration strikes (as it did, briefly, last night). I’m also looking for dreams that might be significant.

So see? The writing and the learning are like dominoes: one idea begets another.

Why do I write what I do?

Ah, that’s an interesting question.

I started out writing poems. Mostly bad poems, I’m afraid. The turn to fiction came in a writing teachers’ workshop at Bard College some years ago where I was required to write a short story. That little story came so easily (I wish they all did!), and I fell in love with the form. So mostly, I’m a short story writer. My husband is responsible for the turn to novels. He kept telling me I could write a novel, and I kept protesting that I couldn’t. Finally, I think the challenge got to me, and I took it on. “A novel is just a long story,” he kept reminding me. That’s true, but there’s a lot more to novel writing than that. I find novel-writing challenging and hair-pulling hard, but I’m hooked, and I’ll keep at it.

As for subject matter: stories can come from anywhere. Many of mine stem from autobiographical material, but they also arise out of observation: a person in a restaurant or on the street, another person’s trauma or desire or fear can provide the spark.

How does my writing process work?

Process / G. Wilson

Process / G. Wilson

I wish I could tell you that I have this immaculate way of doing things, that I rise at five every morning and write for two hours before I have my oatmeal. Or I write eight hours a day. I’m retired, after all; I should be able to do that, right?

I’m afraid that’s not the case. I’m as likely to sit with my laptop in front of the TV (with the TV on; yes, I know that’s terrible, but I do it sometimes) as I am to go off by myself. I like to write with music in the background, especially if I find music that fits the tone of what I’m working on. I write notes by hand when I’m just playing around, toying with ideas, and then I tend to write long, messy first drafts and revise, revise, revise.

I’m indebted to a few good and faithful readers who keep me honest (and often humble).

I read–mostly fiction but also poetry, memoir, and other nonfiction.

I research. A lot. It seems most stories require some special knowledge or background to flesh out their worlds with specific details. I like that about the process; I’m always, always learning.

I do wish I were more disciplined. That’s a worthwhile goal.

The tour moves on!

I’ve asked the following writers to come aboard the tour. Do hop over and see what they’re working on and what wisdom they have to share:

Marsha Blevins

Marsha Blevins

Marsha Blevins lives in WV with her boyfriend and four fur-children. After long hours of reports and complaints at her “day job,” she unwinds in front of the keyboard writing short stories, novels, or just random rants. After being published in her college literary magazine in the late 1990′s, she took a nearly 15 year break from the pressures that type of fame brought into her life. Better able to cope with being in the spotlight now, she is back . . . and better than ever! Marsha’s blog: Marble’s Words.

Jane Ann McLachlan

Jane Ann McLachlan

Jane Ann McLachlan taught writing and professional ethics at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ontario, before she took an early leave to write full-time. She has published two college textbooks on professional ethics through Pearson Education, a short story collection titled Connections, and a science fiction novel titled Walls of Wind. She has written two
other books which are on offer with her agent, Carrie Pestritto of Prospect Agency in New York, is currently editing her science fiction YA novel, The Malemese Diamond, and researching for her next historical fiction novel. Visit her at http://www.jamclachlan.net or at http://www.janeannmclachlan.com.

 

June Bourgo

June Bourgo

Born and raised in Montreal, June Bourgo lives in the beautiful BC interior surrounded by ranch lands. Her debut novel Winter’s Captive has been picked up by Fountain Blue Publishing for re-release with a new cover, to be followed by Chasing Georgia, Book 2 of The Georgia Series. Information about publishing dates and book availability is forthcoming. June is currently working on A Missing Thread, Book 3 of The Georgia Series. To learn more about June and her work, visit her blog, Losing Cinderella.

 

Posted in Blog Tour, Fiction, Narrative, Short Fiction, Writers' Blogs, Writing Craft | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The Sisters’ Story

Gerry Wilson:

I have never “reblogged” one of my own posts before, but here I am, on the eve of Mother’s Day, thinking I should write something about my mother, and I just ran across this post I wrote back in 2012. My mother is long dead; the women I write about here were still around at the time this piece was written. One of them, Mother’s best friend, Eleanor, died not too long ago, which makes this piece, especially the ending, all the more poignant for me. So Mother, this is for remembering you: your beauty, your fortitude, your laughter, your sadness. Your love for my dad and for me. Your sacrifices. Your truth.

Originally posted on Gerry Wilson:

Enter a room with four elderly women–all in their nineties–in various stages of infirmity and alertness. They are sisters, and all of them grew up with my mother in a small town in north Mississippi. This means they were all born within a few years of 1920. They were girls during the Great Depression, young women around the time of World War II. I’m visiting with them just before Thanksgiving. They are having a grand reunion, and I’m grateful to be included for a little while.

I have driven to the family farm on a gorgeous late fall day, caught up in my own memories, a little apprehensive, not sure what to expect. One of the sisters, the one I see frequently and have stayed most connected with over the years, has Alzheimer’s and is declining. I’m relieved to see that the others–Julia, Eleanor, Genevieve (what beautiful names!)–are in fair…

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Story Surgery

A week or so ago, I re-read one of my short stories I hadn’t looked at in a while. I have to confess I’d felt a little smug about this one. (I almost never feel confident about what I write.) It’s unlike anything else I’ve written—a little edgy, playing around with POV and dialogue. Tight. Or so I thought. But I’d submitted it a few times with no luck–a sign the story isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s not as good as it could be.

I had never been truly satisfied with the ending, so I started there. I agonized. I lost sleep. I worked on the last two paragraphs for days (yes, sometimes that’s how long it takes), and finally, the ending seemed to gel. No small victory, that.

Then I read the entire story again—one last time, I told myself. I looked at white space, checked for typos. I had already read it for clichés, sentence variety, scene/narrative summary balance, tension, character arc/change, “flow” . . . If you’re a fiction writer, you know the drill. As I read, though, I realized the story was still heavy with gratuitous details and phrases, even whole sentences that didn’t contribute much.

Cutting Room Floor

"Possible Cut" by patpitchaya. Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

“Possible Cut” by patpitchaya. Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

So I started cutting. By the time I was done, the story was almost 500 words lighter. Tighter. Stronger. Why had it taken me so long to see what it needed?

Sometimes, time and distance give me perspective. I agree with the advice to “put it away for a while,” then reread with a sharp, critical eye. I often puzzle over a story for a long time before I figure out what it really needs. (Occasionally, I never figure it out, but that’s another post.)

Someone—surely more than one writer of advice on story craft—has said that nothing should go in the story that doesn’t advance it in some way. Nothing.

That, I believe, is the crux of revision whether you’re writing short or long fiction.

Ask yourself: Does this scene/ paragraph/dialogue/sentence/image/particular word (yes, word choice) move the story forward and/or grow the character? What does it add? Strike it out and read the passage aloud without it. See if you miss it, not because it was a brilliant turn of phrase but because without it, something absolutely essential has gone missing from the story. If not, cut. Cut. Cut. Painful, but necessary.

Be wary of language that calls attention to itself. In this story, I threw away a metaphor I loved. It was a beautiful image, but it didn’t do anything for the story. Sometimes we do indeed have to “kill our darlings.”

Granted, it’s possible to chop the life right out of a story. I know. I’ve done it. But sometimes, if we cut a story to its bones, we find a better way to tell it.

Before and After

I want to share a couple of examples. This story, “Miracle of Doors,” is about a woman recovering from breast cancer. Out of context, these passages won’t mean much, but they illustrate the kind of cutting and refining I’m talking about. (Her cat, Miso, plays an important role in the story.)

Here they are, side by side:

Old_new_best.pdf

Before, after

This gives you an idea of my “tightening” process when I’m down to the last passes through a story. Sometimes it’s not the number of words but the words themselves that matter most. Maybe you’re able to write concisely or revise as you go. I tend to discover as I go; I write long drafts and whittle them down.

A story draft is the easy part. Revision is key to a polished piece of writing you can be proud of. Before you send the story out into the world: Refine. Make every word count!

Do you have favorite revision strategies? Share one with me!

Posted in Fiction, Novelist, Short Fiction, Writing Craft | Tagged , , , | 30 Comments