out my side window

For today, I had planned to write a review of the book I finished yesterday, but as I sat down to write, I realized that the piece of fiction I started on Saturday and continued with on Sunday and Monday is the first altogether new piece of fiction I’ve started in over two years.

In the spring of 2007, I began a story a week for ten weeks, and when I haven’t been working on my novel, which I began in 2004, I’ve been working on those. I’ve also finished the novel (although it’s waiting for a 6-month read) and three stories, and I have five more stories lined up behind me waiting for what is probably a final revision and one of those, for just that final clean read.


the leaves are changing

Over two years. No wonder writing something new was feeling…unfamiliar.

So when I started this piece on Saturday–and for the first time I have no feel for whether it wants to be a novel or a story–even without realizing how long it had been since I had started fresh, the thought did cross my mind, I wonder if I’m going to get it right this time.

And I don’t think I meant the story. I think I meant the process.

Which is for sure an individual thing, as in there is not one right way to do it. It has to do with what works for each person. The thing is, I’m not sure I’ve yet hit upon what works for me.


and on my desk

I know one thing though. I think up to now, I’ve spent too much time trying to get the words right before I knew what the story was. Almost as if, if I could get the words right, I would have the story. This time, I’m trying not to get so attached to the words. This time, when I wonder if Lucy accepts her situation or feels bitter or is using humor to cover up how she really feels, instead of choosing one, I’m going to try each one. I’m going to ask more questions.

Actually I know another thing too. Especially for me because I prefer working on a novel, having the opportunity to begin something new is a moment to catch.

What about you–are you satisfied with your process?

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15 thoughts on “unfamiliar

  1. Love the observations. A lot of writing is revision, and so it’s a bit of a shock to sit down with The Blank Page. Although you have been writing this lovely blog for at least the last year, right? So that certainly qualifies as fresh writing!


  2. Thanks for this glimpse into your writing process. I’m torn about examining mine though. I’m afraid if I start questioning what I do, what works and what doesn’t, I might be too concious of the process and lose the inspiration. So I hope you’ll update us on how it works for you on this new venture.


  3. Thanks for the comment, Kim. The Blank Page did not so much elicit shock as Hmmm, this is weird. I can write anything? Really?

    And yes, writing blog posts qualifies as fresh writing but not starting new fiction. That, at least for me, is apparently rare.


  4. Yes, Linda, I thought about the whole don’t-overanalyse-this issue as I was writing the blog post. But I think writing the post helped pull together the thoughts that were swirling around unmoored in my mind about starting something new and why I was so interested in how I was going about it. Also I’m hoping readers might have some insights into the whole process thing.


  5. Wow, was that new-story-a-week-for-ten-weeks thing planned, or did you just experience a huge burst of creative energy?

    I don’t write fiction, but I’m definitely still refining my creative process re: clothing design. I’m actually teaching a beginning design class in a few weeks, and in getting the handouts and lesson plan together, I’m realizing how little conscious thought I put into my own process. Paying attention to it when I haven’t before feels a little like watching myself tie my shoelaces: analyze it too much, and suddenly my fingers can’t perform the simple motion. But in the long run, I’m sure it will be a boon for me (and, hopefully, the students!).


  6. Really interesting, Cindy. Here’s an analogy that’s been on my mind lately: I had to have my picture taken this summer and for much of the time we were outside. The photographer repeatedly set up those big foil reflectors and every time she did I would watch her shift and adjust and tilt the reflector and then shift back again, then bend again, another tilt – and I was really struck by her relationship to the sunlight. It was as though she and it were in a kind of dance, almost a flirtation or seduction. There was absolutely no forcing the light, only catching it – and that was only going to happen with the utmost attentiveness and flexibility on her part. It was she who had to do the adjusting, she who had to both pursue and bend. For me it was like an enactment of my relationship with my stories – when things are going well. It’s that kind of dance. That kind of balance between attentiveness and a willingness to bend and adjust as necessary.
    But most importantly of all, what I love about your entry is that it’s about what’s right for you – not everyone. So many people try to tell other writers what their process should be – and that makes me crazy! There is no one way to do this – and I love how strongly that comes through here.


  7. I wish I could say I’m satisfied. Regardless of what I would like, the process always feels too slow. Like you, I have a collection of stories that are still in revision, some for longer than a year. It seems that each “fresh” reading finds something different to be fixed. Is the character fleshed out enough? Does the action fit the motivation? Can the reader tell how the character feels through the dialogue without the use of attributions? These are just a few of the questions that can keep a story back behind the gate. Even so, there’s is one thing that keeps me going: passion. If I weren’t so passionate about writing, I think I would have given up a long time ago.


  8. Emily, the new-story-a-week-for-ten-weeks thing was planned–to get our creative juices flowing. I had been working on my first novel for a while and some older stories. And I wondered what stories I had that might be trapped inside trying to find their way out. We got the idea from Stephen Dobyns, who began with sixty first sentences and ended up with a collection of stories.

    Yes, I was conscious of the danger of looking too closely at process, and yet never having done it before, I was curious to step outside myself and look back.

    Your design class sounds fascinating. I can see how in teaching it, you need to be able to put into words things you do without even thinking, maybe even things you don’t realize you’re doing. Hopefully, you can step outside your process to study it and then step back inside to design. I’ll be interested to hear how it goes. Will you post about the class on The Family Trunk Project?


  9. Robin, I love this analogy of a writer catching the story as a photographer does a photograph. Setting up those big foil reflectors, taking a few shots, then moving to a different spot and trying a few more.

    There was absolutely no forcing the light, only catching it – and that was only going to happen with the utmost attentiveness and flexibility on her part.

    I’ve been thinking about your analogy since you made this comment, and although I’ve yet to have time to work anymore on the story, looking at writing in this way seems to have opened something up for me. Not only is the photographer’s dance a lovely image, but it makes far more sense to me as a process than just assuming my first words are going to give me the best take on the story. It also gives value and meaning to the shots from each spot and in all different types of light.

    Although it is all about what works for each person, since I have yet to find a process that I feel comfortable with, I’m very excited about looking at writing in this way. Thank you.


  10. Hi Stephen, oh yes, passion. It’s definitely what keeps me going–word after word after word.

    Regarding process, did you see Robin Black’s comment to this post? I think her analogy of the writing process to a photographer moving around the subject is an enlightening way to look at discovering the story.

    I think for me, in the past, I haven’t spent enough time discovering the story before I began polishing the words. I’m hoping a little more time on the front end might reduce the time on the back end.

    Anyway, it is a process, isn’t it? Nice to hear from you again.


  11. Passion is the key ingredient for sure – and patience! For what it’s worth, in terms of things taking time, I have a collection coming out from Random House in the spring. It’s 10 stories, took me 8 years (EIGHT YEARS!!) to write and as recently as last month I was still editing/revising stories that were written 6 years ago and published five years ago. For some of us, it’s just a very, very slow process. And every time I have tried to rush it, that’s backfired. The work either suffers or just grinds to a halt.
    And boy do I envy the fast writers – but there’s just no way I can do it.


  12. OMG, Robin, a link is up on Amazon for If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This to be released May 4, 2010!!! I just pre-ordered!

    Ah hem, calming down…you know, that’s good to hear, that sometimes there is just not a direct route and that one is not doing anything “wrong” because it takes a long time.

    Thanks, Robin, and congratulations!


  13. What you said here resonates my mistakes exactly: “I think for me, in the past, I haven’t spent enough time discovering the story before I began polishing the words. I’m hoping a little more time on the front end might reduce the time on the back end.”

    I wish I knew the discovery sooner. I kept revising and rewriting when I wasn’t done discovering the story. What a waste of time for me.


  14. Tricia, as I said on your blog, it’s nice to see “you.”

    But I don’t think it’s “mistakes” or “a waste of time” so much as it is a learning process; and although I wish I were faster, I’m enjoying trying to discover a process that works for me.

    Also, what works as a process for one story or novel won’t necessarily work for the next one. I think the trick might be being open to all sorts of possibilities, while at the same time letting each experience teach us more about ourselves.

    Of course, I do always tend to look on the bright side. : )


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