Data Mine the Work

Yesterday in my post, The Exploratory Draft, I mentioned the interview I read in The Writer with Adam Johnson. Johnson, like many writers, believes that successful stories come out of hard work. You have to put in the hours. He writes at least 1,000 words per day and he keeps track of his progress in a spreadsheet. He notes, among other things, the day, the time, the place he wrote, the story, and the number of words. He said that over the years, he’s been able to “data mine” his spreadsheet to see where and what time of day he’s the most productive. Continue reading

Stay With Your Crap

This past Saturday I had difficulty writing. I knew what the problem was right away. I have absorbed a lot of craft ideas as a result of writing this blog, which doesn’t sound like a problem. In fact, it sounds like an advantage. After all, I’m reading as a writer and seeing with greater clarity how some of my favorite writers master story. But I have the same 20/20 vision when it comes to my own work. Unfortunately, I’m seeing with great clarity the awesome crap I’m writing. I tried to stay in the room, but I got sick of the sight of my sentences. I was discouraged. Frustrated. I had to take a break. Just needed to back away from the computer before I tossed it over the balcony. I pulled out a craft book for some recuperative reading and stumbled upon this little nugget from Philip Roth in Nail Your Novel, by Rox Morris. Continue reading

A Place to Write

I’ve been doing this fiction-writing thing on and off for about ten years. Lately, it’s been more “on,” since I’ve been lucky and a lot of things are clicking, falling into place, making sense, etc. One thing that has become incredibly important to my writing, to the actual production of sentences that turn into paragraphs that turn into scenes that turn into stories, is the space I have found to write in.

It’s a library.

Previous to that, I wrote in the bedroom with the door closed. But it’s too cozy in there. I would get into my writing trance and get sleepy, and then fall asleep. It was embarrassing. And what a waste of time! I work a full time job and have about three hours per day, if I’m lucky, to squeeze in some writing. Here’s the other bad thing about writing in the bedroom, or at home in general: it’s also distracting. My dog barks. My boyfriend comes in to check on how I’m doing. I get thirsty. I get hungry. I have a wireless Internet connection. My mom calls.

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Get Lost

In the beginning, writing teachers tell you, “Write what you know.” But as far as I can tell, writing fiction is about writing to find out. You discover new people, places and things. You discover yourself. It’s particularly poignant in fiction because, on the one hand, you’re making it up as you go along. But at the same time you’re creating a fictional world, you’re also exploring it and uncovering things you didn’t know. That’s the joy and the pain of it. Mostly pain. It can be discouraging, because often you feel as though you’re on the right path, when suddenly you find that it’s not the way out and you have to back track, that is, revise. I offer this encouragement. Get lost in the woods and don’t be afraid. You’ll make a path and find your way out. Trust the process. Be brave.

From Donald Barthleme:

The writer is one who, embarking upon a task, does not know what to do … The not-knowing is crucial to art, is what permits art to be made. Without the scanning process engendered by not-knowing, without the possibility of having the mind move in unanticipated directions, there would be no invention … Writing is a process of dealing with not-knowing.

Photo: pat00139 / Flickr Creative Commons