What If? 88 – Exploring the Creative Writing process

The intro is a parable: writing is like cleaning a linoleum floor. I remember linoleum floors! I had one in Quincy. anyway, she gives this little thing about first you sweep a square of 16 tiles, then you scrub that square, then you dry then wax then buff, then you move on to the next sixteen-tile square. And of course everyone says, “That’s not how you do it!” and she says, of course not, that’s how NOT to write. I feel cheated.

Exercise: look at Writers at Work from the Paris Review Interviews. Note how different writers talk about their process. Which is most like yours, which is most different?
Objective: There is no correct way to write but there is a series of stages: a spark, discovering the first draft, exploring further possibilities of character and action in middle drafts, editing and polishing the work. Attempting to do too much too soon often ends up feeling frustrating. There is a time to discover and take risks and explore, and another time to polish syntax and diction.

I don’t have the Interviews she’s talking about so I’ll just use the Glimmer Train “Writers Ask” series as well as some other things I’ve heard of. I’m gripped, however, by the idea that it can be frustrating to do too much for the stage you’re in. I think maybe that’s something I need to look at – that I’m trying to finish a story in my head before writing the first word, since I have this aversion to throwing out what doesn’t work. Now, I used to teach expository writing as a tutor in college, and I kept telling people not to feel bad about cutting something that they like but either isn’t working with other parts of the paper or there is a word restriction and it’s too long – “you can always use it in another paper.’ And I’m ignoring my own advice. I’m approaching each story like it’s the last one I’ll ever write. I need to knock that off.

However, I’m not crazy about the Ron Carlson method of writing a really jam-packed first sentence and seeing where it goes. I’m probably taking that too literally – he probably goes back and adds things to that first sentence, or changes things that turn out to be red herrings.

I’m also not crazy about the “you must write # words every day” model. But that may be because I’m thinking of “writing” as new material, a new part of a story, not rewrites, editing, research, or ideas. I do some of those things every day, I’m pretty sure, though not lately.

The model that appeals to me most is “get a draft down on the page and then worry about what works and what doesn’t” because you can’t rewrite, edit, restructure, etc unless you have something to begin with.

So the point is I need to write, not just think about stories and have them torturing me in my head. I need to get back to work. I’ve got mornings pretty set up as work time, so I can do that now.

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3 responses to “What If? 88 – Exploring the Creative Writing process

  1. I did some of the What If? exercises and found them very helpful. I’m currently working my way through Alice LaPlante’s The Making of a Story, which I really like because I can select areas in my writing that are troublesome.

    • Hello, Jeanie, thanks for the tip! I’ve requested this book through my library, I’ll let you know how I like it. I’m always looking for the “magic bullet” that’ll turn me into a “real” writer, but it’s the search, I think, that does the trick, little by little, over time.

      • I agree – sadly, there’s no magic bullet, but LaPlante has provided some new ways to look at the writing process that I’ve found helpful. Hope you do, too.

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