Tonight I went to an author’s reading in town. I used to go to these all the time when I lived in Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington or Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Now I live in a smaller town that doesn’t have many and to get to the readings I have to drive 45 minutes. Going into town for a reading or anything else for that matter was nearly impossible for many years. Now that my kids are getting older and have busy social lives of their own, going to something like an author’s reading is possible with some extra planning.
Tonight, Wiley Cash, author of A Land More Kind Than Home, was introducing Mesha Maren, author of Sugar Run. I haven’t read Sugar Run yet but I’ve heard great thing about the book and this debut author so I thought it would be fun to go to the reading, buy her book from an independent bookstore that was hosting her and enjoy an artists date, in the spirit of The Artists Way.
Cash introduced Maren and they discussed her book and the characters in it, Maren read a few passages from the book and they opened for comments. Someone in the audience asked Maren about her writing process. Writers are always interested in hearing how other writers write. Everyone seems to have a different process but we all want to know what it is partly, I think because we want to compare their process to our own: do they write faster? are they more efficient? do they struggle like I do? Whether it comes more or less easily to the published author doesn’t matter, either way, we are kind of mad and jealous about it because whatever their process is–it worked. And ours hasn’t… yet.
The other reason we like to know about other writer’s creative process is so we can imitate it. If it worked for them it might work for us! So we describe our characters into a voice recorder, we write out scenes on note cards, we write the ending first, whatever it is that works for someone else, we will try. In the end, we learn we all have our unique style. Some of us are morning writers, some evening. Some of us need to write in long sessions, taking an entire day at a time, or writing for weeks on end, isolated from the world. Others can write here and there, a few minutes a day, every day and get a first draft out. Whatever it is, it always seems like someone else must have a better way because no matter how you do it, writing is hard work!
Mesha Maren’s process is to germinate her ideas on walks and then she writes in a journal–by hand– what her goals are for what she will be writing that day. Is her challenge to write a particular scene? How does she want that scene to work? What does the scene need to convey? Is she dealing with a particular conflict? Then after she hand writes these challenges and potential strategies for overcoming them, as well as key notes she wants to hit, she gets a different notebook and writes the scene out–by hand, again– in that notebook. After she’s done that to her satisfaction, she moves to the computer and transcribes the scene, while editing, into a document. Finally, when she is done writing it, she prints it out and reads it out loud.
I was particularly intrigued by her process as my own has some similarities. My morning pages are a lot like her first journal writing. I write by hand and use that writing to talk to myself about what I want to write in my fiction. I don’t actually write it in that journal, I write about it. I thought this was very odd that I did this until I heard that Maren does it also. From there, I go straight to the computer. I don’t write the scene longhand in another notebook like she does. I’m a ridiculously fast typer and besides that my fingers get sore from too much handwriting.
When I have finished a draft, I always read it out loud, but not at the end of each writing session. I usually wait until something is a complete first draft before reading it out loud. By then, hearing it out loud reveals so many flaws and stumbling language, I usually shelve the piece in exhaustion. It would be too much to go back and fix all those pages of crap, so I close the file, wish I were a better writer, and start again. Perhaps, if I imitate Maren’s style and read through my work out loud as I go, instead of waiting until the very end, I will not have as big a task at the end of it. Perhaps I will even have a solid draft I can work with for a second draft?
I hate to add one more step to the already laborious process but if that step will improve my writing in the end, then it will be worth it.