Having used this blog — fitfully! — as a place to file old clips, it feels somewhat strange to generate something wholly new. But credit (as so many writers do) Emily Gray Tedrowe for inspiration/encouragement/admonition. Better yet, go ahead and read her answers to these questions, which hail from somewhere much farther back on the chain.
A laptop. (Which is true, btw, but not the question, I know, but if it was, I could compare it to what may have been my greatest ever success in sending something over the transom, which is when I pitched something blind to the NYT op-ed page and in it went. That piece I began drafting on the back of a bank deposit envelope while I waited to pick up my wife from evening MBA classes (thank goodness someone in the family possesses a lick of sense when it comes to picking careers). Which is to say, if I could count on that kind of luck with everything I handwrote, I’d have a stack of deposit envelopes by me right now. But of course, now we bank by smartphone, and I’ve certainly had no success writing with that.) I’m finishing up a collection of short stories that I hope will see daylight, and shelves, next year about this time. Almost all of these stories have been previously published, but when the editor looked over the manuscript, she had many things to say. My first reaction was wait, I thought these were done. My subsequent reaction, however, is what’s lingered and that’s relief. Not everyone gets the chance to fix something after it’s been in print — although I don’t know a single writer who hasn’t expressed that very wish — and needless to say, not everyone has such a great editor guiding them. But I do, I’m grateful, and I’m sure I will bring a red pen with me to readings next year so I can continue fixing things right there at the podium. What else am I working on? All kinds of stuff that I’m worried will dissipate if I talk too much about it right now, so I’ll hold off on that. I will say that I’m grateful to the colleague who told me to do at least one “fun” thing on one’s sabbatical, and since for me, writing is fun, I wrote a play. A very short one. Very, very short. That will be produced. In a parking lot. Next month. In Minnesota. And I live in Milwaukee and Emily lives in Chicago and that’s a long way of saying, it’s Central Time’s time now.
I hope it doesn’t (questionnaires! writers! never a good combination) in that the genre I aspire to is whichever one encompasses all great prose. I do, of course, always want to be doing something new, but I definitely want to fit in, as well. Or, fit in by somehow sticking out. (And who knew that could happen by choosing identical titles?) An enduring fascination for me as a writer is my bookshelf neighbors: depending on the store or library, I’m right there between Hortense Calisher and Italo Calvino. I couldn’t name two more dissimilar writers, nor two who are more dissimilar from me. But there we all sit, together. It’s good company.
I suppose it has a bit to do with exorcism (what doesn’t?). Or perhaps it’s better compared to those oysters, the irritant inside them, the grain of sand, that somehow rounds itself, over time, into art. I don’t lay claim to any pearls, but I do recognize that process—at the beginning there’s always some grain of something, and it really does feel like an irritant. I have to find it, develop it, refine it, and hope that the end result is something others will like. It now occurs to me that the oyster dies in this process. But I suppose that’s addressed in the next question.
Fast, and then slow. I generate initial drafts incredibly fast — it seems to be the only way I can do it — and then take forever with the revisions. I’m actually, actively trying to revise the way I work — I don’t think this fast, then slow approach is the most productive way to do this. I admire/envy those writers who spend a bit more time moving from paragraph to paragraph; they seem to come up with sturdier initial drafts, which helps down the line.
But it may be that it’s a bit like running. My first marathon I did with the help of the Leukemia Society’s Team in Training program, who provided us a coach. The first thing I asked him was, how should I change my stride? I had never run more than 3 miles, and thought getting to 26 would take some special measures. It did, but one of them wasn’t changing my stride. “You run how you run,” the coach told me, and I sense that’s true of my writing as well. I do know that typing the last line of a draft feels exactly like crossing the finish line that first time in San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium: I’m exhausted, I’m smiling, and I’ve got absolutely nothing left.
And the next morning, to my surprise (and my legs’ horror), I only wanted to go running again.
Somewhere around 1986, an online lit pioneer told me that blogs were really going to catch on: “try it!” she said. “you’ll never write for pay again!” So I did guest-try it, decided to leave it to the pros, and only return now to say: here’s the tumblr blog where I’ll be posting new and old pieces for those who’ve asked. (I note that I’ve done this just as my pioneer blog buddy has returned to print. There should be a word for such reversals.)