Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My writing process: what I'm learning

  • I just looked at a story I hadn't looked at for 5 months - the editor of the anthology it was commissioned for made excellent suggestions - and tweaking it was so much easier than when I'd just wrote it. I could see where I'd overwritten, where I had put in "pretty" language just for show and not for the story. I was not attached to it anymore, it wasn't my latest "baby",  so I could strip all that away without regret. Let it lie, put it away, for at least a week
  • I shouldn't show a first draft to anyone, I need to make sure I am happy with it, I'm not trying to please a group, or even any one other person. Write what I want to write
  • I am not going to submit so many stories for publication, will hold stories back for my new collection. Don't worry about being published.
  •  I wrote a new story yesterday in one sitting, while playing online scrabble, alternating between writing and playing my turn (see recent New Yorker article about possible benefits of distraction). Distraction helps me stay in the zone, don't feel guilty about needing that
  • I am reading so much and it all inspires me to try new things, things that may not be what the market "wants", but which I love to write Don't worry about the market
  • I am reading Collected Stories by a 90-year-old author and seeing how what she wrote changed over nearly 60 years. Give myself time and space to evolve 

21 comments:

Clare said...

This is a really helpful list, thank you for sharing it :)

katrina said...

great post!

Tania Hershman said...

Thanks, Clare! Everyone has to find their own process, right? It may seem odd that I'm only finding mine 3 years after my book came out - maybe I should add that to the list! Don't worry if finding your process takes some time and everyone assumes you've found it !

Katrina, thank you!

Marisa Birns said...

That New Yorker article was really interesting. Taking a respite from a task and letting one's mind wander before focusing on productivity is okay by me :)

Tania Hershman said...

Marisa,
they've written about the usefulness of distraction in the NY several times, it's always very interesting. For me it seems to enhance my productivity - I used to think that was my mind making excuses but now I really believe it.

Sophie Playle said...

Nice list. It's useful to do this sort of reflection :)

Nathan Flack said...

That is a really useful list. The distraction thing is very interesting. I'm wondering if having very set times and routines for writing becomes stultifying or can put too much pressure on a story.

Tania Hershman said...

Sophie, I know I've probably done it before but it is really useful for me to write things down, to remind myself of them, to see what's changed since last time.

Nathan, I'm glad my list speaks to you too. I've never had set times or routines, never considered it. But now I have my writing shed, the main thing for me is to get in here, and there's always lots to do that isn't actually writing a story down, but as long as something's bubbling in the background...

Tania Hershman said...

PS Nathan - I think being a short story writer, routines are perhaps less useful/relevant than if you are working on a novel and need to reach a minimum number of words. We don't need the quantity, I never found the "write 1000 words a day" kinds of rules very helpful for my kind of stories.

Tania Hershman said...

PPS "nathan" - just visited your blog and saw who you are, hello! Thanks for popping by!

litrefs said...

These sound like useful options to consider. As you say, the important thing to do is review one's process with an open mind. 2 comments on the comments -

* Especially for poetry, distraction's often mentioned as one of the purposes of writing exercises; while the rational, self-censoring mind is busy solving the posed puzzle, the creative mind is freed. Indeed, Eliot went further, suggesting that "The chief use of the 'meaning' of a poem, in the ordinary sense, may be ... to satisfy one habit of the reader, to keep his mind diverted and quiet, while the poem does its work upon him."

* It's not always easy to know if a new process works - you may be writing more and enjoying it more, but maybe the new process involves disabling your critical faculties. I've tried to keep a note of when/how I wrote published pieces to see what does and doesn't work for me. Holidays don't work, but avoiding reading for a while does.

Nathan Flack said...

Sorry, Tanya. Must be logged in under my blog account. Best, Ashley

Sarah Hilary said...

Great post, lovely to hear you sounding so excited and confident about your processes and how they're evolving. Twitter is my favourite while-writing distraction (I use it to dump all the extraneous thoughts!) and I shall be tweeting about this blog post. Thanks!

Jim Murdoch said...

This is good, succinct and to the point. I personally think a week isn’t nearly enough time. I like to leave stuff for as long as it takes me to pretty much forget writing the piece in the first place, months at least. But that’s me. If I could sum up everything you’ve said here is would probably be this: STOP TELLING ME HOW TO WRITE. There is no right way to do this writing thing. What works for one of us will fail for another. I don’t mind people sharing their processes because that’s where I get ideas - Hm, maybe I’ll give that a go - and maybe I’ll adopt it as my own or shake my head after a bit and go back to what I know works. I liked this though. Stuff we all should be thinking about.

Tania Hershman said...

Litrefs, very interesting about poetry and distraction, I didn't know that! And I like your idea of keeping track of when you wrote something to see if what you were doing at the time affected it positively or not. Most of these things are things i was actually doing anyway, but had thought were "wrong" in some way. Now I've finally come to accept them.

Sarah, thanks, nice to feel a little positive about it all!

Jim, Yes! That absolutely sums it up - it's taken me this long to shout that out, there are NO RULES! That's why this blog post is entitled "MY process", it's not about telling anyone how to do it, but just to document what I'm up to, it's useful for me to have this, and, as a blogger, it made sense for me to share. But should most certainly NOT be taken as any kind of generalization but just, as you say, food for thought.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

I love it! And I am SO glad you are grounded, enjoying your own processes. Long may it last. And oh arent you right - no writer can possibly tell others that THIS is the way they must do it! We are all so different.

(and a writer like me changes with every hour as well.. just to make things more difficult!)

sonia said...

Very interesting post - thank you for sharing. There's more to writing than just writing!

Sue Guiney said...

Yes, yes, yes, yes,yes and yes! Although I do agree that no one can tell someone else how to write, these are all certainly things we need to remember and can make our own. But of course knowing these things and remembering them are not always the same. Thanks for the reminder!
PS Not showing people 1st drafts and not needing their affirmation is a big issue with me. But I'm working on it...

Tania Hershman said...

hi V, not sure if I am grounded - yet! And yes, changing every hour sounds a little familiar too. don't hold me to what I write in this post!

Sonia, oh yes, there really is!

Sue, it's hard for me too. Funnily, I don't feel the need to show anyone my flash stories, but anything longer, I feel I have no idea about it myself, need outside feedback. I'm trying this New Way.

Claire King said...

That's great, to see - that you're discovering (or rediscovering) yourself and your writing processes. I do think we evolve all the time and very seldom find or make the time to reflect on how we work best. I'm inspired to have a think about this for myself now! Thanks :)

Louise Halvardsson said...

I'm going to print your purple (my favourite colour) lines and put them on my wall! (and will quote them in my blog too :=)