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Jun 29, 2023·edited Jun 29, 2023

The only time I've had a process that consistently worked for many weeks at a time was a couple months ago when I was working every day on a project that, in my mind, was 100% for fun and inherently unpublishable (something about trivializing the story's importance like this made it easier to balance care with just getting on with things. All my writing problems are problems of self-consciousness). I eventually hit a groove where I knew I could complete a chapter every 2 or 3 days, and that about once a week I'd hit a tougher day where I'd have to write through a lull, walk away for a few hours, then come back, trim it, and spontaneously replace it with something better. I ended up writing almost 30k words in 6 weeks, which, for me, was incredible and a breakthrough.

I think the key was that the anonymity / pointlessness of the project freed me up to write at the perfect speed - not sloppily or angry-fast, as if to meet a quota or make up for lost time, but fast enough to keep the flow instead of getting choked-up trying to make it perfect. I genuinely wanted to read the story, so I allowed average sentences to stay (and found I was able to revise *almost* everything later on except the voice of the protagonist). I would like to repeat this carefree, childlike creativity on my next project, but it's stupidly harder than it sounds!

I feel like I've overshared and may delete this soon. But thank you for taking the time to elaborate on your process for us! I found it very helpful.

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Brené Brown calls it "vulnerability hangover" and I do it all the time, also (delete stuff I shared). I'm glad you did share, though, and hope you'll leave it up, Melinda.

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Me, too. I hope you'll leave this up, Melinda. Self-consciousness is probably to blame for a lot of trouble, not just trouble in writing.

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Massive amounts of trouble and paralysis!

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I love that idea (vulnerability hangover!)

I have a 'remnants' box for ideas that never quite make it. Sometimes it's fun to take them out to play - rather like crocheting the remnants of yarn into a blanket.

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That's the perfect way to describe it! Thanks, Traci :)

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All my best work is inherently unpublishable too.😂

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What David said, maybe not!

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Maybe not…

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You and Sea are too nice. I hope you're right.

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read 'unpublishable' as banned, (lady Chatterley's Lover, Lolita, The Truth about Trump...)

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More like too many references to conflicting intellectual property.

That said, they got the last season of Atlanta past Disney somehow… (Anyone know what I'm talking about???)🧐

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Loved Atlanta, though I’m not sure what you’re talking about re: Disney.

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The Goofy mockumentary episode??

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Thank you for this, Melinda. I think 'unpublishable stuff' is part of the process - like an athlete putting the reps in to run a marathon. You only ever see the last three hours when the race happens; not the hundreds prior to that. You let yourself play and it's given me hope & inspiration to 'play' too.

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Loved reading this! I also feel freer when I don’t think about all the other stuff (succeeding in any way)and take the pressure off.

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I loved reading this. Hoping you’ll decide to leave it up but of course it’s up to you.

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Please don’t delete this! It’s beautiful and helpful. Self-consciousness is possibly the biggest bugaboo for all of us, Melinda!

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"All my writing problems are problems of self-consciousness" Yes! I love this

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I’m glad you kept this post because I like what you wrote here so much:

“I genuinely wanted to read the story, so I allowed average sentences to stay.”

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George mentions fun in writing and it is inherently important. Sounds like you have found a way to free your unconscious to play. My autobiographical based stories were a b l a s t to write. They served a purpose and taught me how to write a story. Without fun writing is a heartbreaking drag. 🌷

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I've had the same experience re:the necessity to feel like you are just noodling around instead of making something big like The Book. Love what you say here: "I think the key was that the anonymity / pointlessness of the project freed me up to write at the perfect speed."

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This sounds like an amazing method for “practicing” writing (or anything, for that matter!)

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First off, thank you for this. Your willingness to recount your process still amazes me. And it’s always so fascinating! I have a zillion thoughts about your process, but you have asked us about ours, so I will keep my reply to your query. I’m not a short story writer. I’ve written novels, yes. But only a handful of (successful) stories. To me, the short story is the most difficult art form of all (when it comes to writing). It’s a mindfuck to write a short story, to put it bluntly. You learn so much about yourself while creating it. And the task is incredibly daunting. My own pattern used to be to just start in, usually following a phrase that’s in my head, or shooting after an emotion, or hoping that a vignette might open up into something bigger. Most of these kinds of starting points have been failures. Some I worked on for months and months and just could not GET. It seems it has taken me years to really understand what a short story is and what it can be and what it needs to work and satisfy. So now, my writing pattern is different. I get out of my own head. I move away from the phrase, the emotion, the vignette. I start with a person. And I quickly give that person a problem of some sort. I let myself riff and write a lot of words that will later be deleted, but I have to go through the riffing in order to start some kind of forward movement. I am conscious at all times that my character is human, in trouble in some way, and that they have to find their way out of that trouble. I tell myself to always remember that the character must be the one to act, to decide, or to decide not to decide or act. But it is that character and not anything else that matters. When I finish (more or less) I revise like crazy, tightening everything up so that it all leads to the same place--everything pointing in the direction i didn’t realize I was heading when I started. Also, i must get the rhythm of my sentences to sing. (All of this is why I must revise.) So that is basically it. This got long very fast so I’ll stop here. Thank you for asking us to respond in this way! I look forward to reading what others have to say.

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You're focused on something I have trouble with, mary: urgency. I need more of that in my current project. The problem? All the characters are already dead by the end of Chapter 1. Where do I get it from then? Any suggestions?

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Just thinking of Lincoln in the Bardo and wondering precisely how dead your characters are.

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I recently showed a few opening pages to a friend who said, as if it were praise, "This is so meditative!" Oops. Note to self: add urgency!

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Hi Andrew! So you’ve killed off your protagonist by the end of the first chapter? Do you have a vision for the rest of the book? Is there a new main character? Urgency comes from tension which comes from placing your character in situations that need solving--urgently, or there will be consequences. Hard to know what to tell you here without knowing more. I mean, you need a character we can root for.

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I've got that, and she's got an instinct to escape her situation—returning from the afterlife isn't being shown as an option, though. It's more her company she's trying to escape than death. She's Alice in Wonderland if Alice wanted to get the fuck out of there and returning home wasn't an option.

Except that, at the point I'm in now, she's starting to get comfortable, starting to adapt to her new environment. And, like I said, there's no risk of death, so the sense of urgency is starting to wane.

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Keep going. You’ve said here she wants to escape but is also beginning to feel comfortable. That’s a great combo. If she MUST escape (because otherwise there will be consequences) that would help. Sounds like she needs to be torn between staying or leaving. But I have no idea!

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Hmm…I don’t know if urgency always arises from the idea that “the time is short,” but it’s worth thinking about. There’s also romantic / sexual urgency…and the urgent need to get something written! But it does seem that urgency, and hence momentum, are heavily related to the sand running out of the hourglass.

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Yeah. Even sexual urgency dries up when your biological clock for procreating doesn't exist anymore. Eternity is a bit of a buzzkill in the world of fiction. I'm simultaneously troubled by that and excited by the challenge.

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This is maybe off the mark, but did you ever see the TV series Dead Like Me? It delves into the very issues mentioned, as in what matters (or why give an F) when there's no risk of death? It's a really great show, might spur you out of your stall. (Available on Netflix I think?)

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There must be problems or issues with eternity or immortality? Not sure. But I’m thinking of Heinlein’s Time Enough For Love where Lazarus Long after living for 4,000 years gets bored enough to want to find a way to end it all (Death, the Final Frontier!) so his friends and relatives concoct a scheme to get him interested in living again: sending him back in time to 1917 where he meets his mother and his child self and ends up a soldier in France…maybe consciousness, whether connected to a physical body or not, is the the real final frontier.

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Can you move your chapters around? Can that first chapter fall into the middle, or even be split up and folded into other sections? (Sorry, you were asking Mary to respond, and she probably has better advice, but I have had this problem also!)

Good luck, Andrew!! There are probably quite a few ways of solving this one.

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I politely disagree. I do think there is a place for meditative writing. And when done well I love it.

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In fiction it might be problematic, but even Hemingway in the midst of all the action had a lot of meditative writing happening. Same with George.

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Mentioned this in another reply, but the story takes place in the afterlife, sort of "Lincoln in the Bardo" style, so moving things around would make for a completely different thing, and I'm at the "enough good stuff" stage (I think). But I actually might look back and see if I can shift things around, now that you've mentioned it. Thanks David!

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Sounds intriguing! There are probably other ways of gaining momentum. I imagine that stakes can be high in the afterlife, or even in the post-afterlife, and in whatever comes after that…I finally was able to give “Thursday” a closer read yesterday, and I am very impressed by the way that story attains momentum in the final paragraphs, as the two main characters become more integrated in one mind, so to speak.

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I wonder if the ending is right there in your first chapter and what you are really looking for is the in-between

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Well, if you're after some inspiration:

1) Looking to return home – as done in Disney/Pixar's Soul

2) Passively observing how their death is affecting those left behind – as done in The Lovely Bones

3) Actively trying to communicate with those left behind – as done in Ghost

4) Adapting to the 'new world' and all its foibles – as done in The Good Place

5) Replaying how things could have gone in their life – as done in The Midnight Library

Five very different stories and structures, all of which have the main character die (or, sort of) early.

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Hi Andrew, here is a blog about increasing tension and conflict in your story, that would hopefully help increase urgency.

https://mastersreview.com/blog/

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I read it and found it very useful as I have similar issues. Thanks for posting it!

For anyone else interested: I found the specific post under Jun 28 with the title "Getting Unstuck: Things are Getting Tense (Hopefully)."

I'm not sure a link won't get truncated, but I'll paste it in. Here goes:

https://mastersreview.com/getting-unstuck-things-are-getting-tense-hopefully/

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I'll read this today. Thanks Vishal!

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Returning to our plane of existence might be interesting. I did that once already, but not to the blood and guts.

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This is helpful, thanks for going into detail.

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This is so helpful, Mary-San!

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Wow, way beyond my writing level at this time. I just know I am human, forget a character.

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When I was just starting out, "finding a voice" was all the rage. That is when I heard Grace Paley read "Goodbye and Good Luck". Something made me look up that story recently. Lo! that story is voice driven. Then I was looking for her genius quote about the effort required to write a short story (which you remind me of here) and came upon this 2017 article in the New Yorker, Grace Paley, the Saint of Seeing by some hep cat named George Saunders. It is an extremely worthwile diversion if you haven't read it. He bedazzles with remarks such as "Paley’s approach is to make a dazzling verbal surface that doesn’t so much linearly represent the world as remind us of its dazzle."

Goodbye and Good Luck I found here: https://www.northernhighlands.org/cms/lib5/NJ01000179/Centricity/Domain/115/Goodbye%20and%20Good%20Luck.pdf

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oh, thank you for these reminders. I've got that GS essay on Grace Paley in my files, so i've just now pulled it up to read again. I once heard her read in person. Oh, my god, she IS that voice. Can't read one of her stories anymore without hearing her. (If you find that "genius quote" of hers, let me know!

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George was rowing with his clam diggers on when he wrote that paean. Just look at anything in it! Here for example:

<quote>

Any object, any human gesture, contains an infinity of language with which it might be described. But through habituation, or paucity of talent, or lack of originality, most of us, writing, reach for the most workaday speech-tools, and in this way the world is made dull. Here comes Paley: seemingly incapable of a banal sentence, a loose observation, or a distracted fictive moment.

</quote>

And here is the link to George's essay.

https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/grace-paley-the-saint-of-seeing

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A vignette can open up to bigger things.MG Well Mary there is the gold vein^^

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Note to self: make sign for desk:"If there are enough good bits, keep going."

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But oh, my good bits can turn - not so good. Or a bad bit can wake up one morning with an epiphany.

PS - When you're writing science, I assume the "reader" you think about is more or less on your wavelength, thinking-wise. But I've become careful of fiction readers. I take down the comment, but don't automatically assume I "did it wrong." but to think about it. Just that.

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Yes!

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I will always think of today's post as "The Good Bits Lesson"!

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This can also be applied to life.

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"I had healed them, through the holy miracle of revision." That's a quote for the ages!

What perfect timing for me for this post. I just finished revising an original TV pilot - called Truck Nuts - that a friend and I had been writing. It's for fun, but I'm hopeful that we can make it one day! We wrote it during lockdown when we both had lots of time. We had it in an inches-away-from-done place but set it aside when I just couldn't for the life of me get the intro to work. I think I tried 5 different intros? I just kept feeling like "Get to it, Kate! Stop pussyfooting with all this introductory crap. Get to the fun thing!"

A year later - last September - my brain was in another creative project that had two somewhat similar main characters. I picked up a bagel, smiled like a kindergartner at the server b/c I just didn't have it in me to give full teeth. And immediately this tiny moment from life blossomed into the fully realized intro scene to Truck Nuts. Cracked it!

Last week I pulled that intro scene into the script, worked endlessly to get this new intro to work. Ruthlessly deleting for the logic of the story. I wrote a whole new draft - forgetting SO much good stuff. Felt proud. Read it the next morning, looking at the old draft realizing "wait - the tone is all off" and realized I had lost this *really good* climactic scene because it had seemed like it couldn't structurally work. To get the structure right, there just wasn't a way to make these three characters get to this one place. Or so I thought.

So yesterday, I put the new version and old version next to each other, figured out where I could adjust adjust adjust. How can I get all three of them at this big final scene? I moved a few things around super deliberately - this time trusting the structure was there and focusing on fun - and today, as of 12pm I have a draft that I feel starts good, stays good, ends good - is structurally sound, inevitable and is packed with jokes. Sending to friends to either confirm or deny this assumption.

I feel like now I should be leaning over my knees heaving, like I just finished running to catch you up on my last week of writing. Haha. That's my process on that! But also I am a recovering perfectionist and I think if I wasn't that way, I probably could've avoided the whole "deleting a bunch of amazing scenes" portion of writing. Holding logic + fun in one brain is hard. Anyone agree??? But alas, I am who I am! Excited to read what other people do!!

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Best of luck with your pilot!

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Wow, you write description well, Kate! I was so in the room with you that I could smell the one-bite bagel and coffee you set down on the coffee table near your paper drafts. Like I was on the couch behind you, listening to you talk it all out loud to yourself while I ate my own bagel and drank my own coffee and watched on in amusement. Congratulations. May it soon go live out in the world!

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Oh thank you!! That’s really nice to hear :)

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I loved what George just taught us, about the hard work of writing well. The false starts, eliminating material close to your heart, even characters, if they don't really serve the storyline. This kind of writing is SO hard to do and many novice writers I know can't find the initiative to do the reworking and reworking. I'm part of a Writer's Group in the community where I live, and almost invariably, what I hear read at our meetings sounds like a first draft with obvious need for editing. Some of the writing really has bones, great plot lines and so on, but the flesh isn't there or seems to fall off in the reading. I will be the first to say I'm not a great fiction writer, but I want to get better and so revise and revise as much as I can, given time constraints.

I try revise my own sub stack entries too as best I can, non-fiction. Most novice writers I meet also don't tolerate criticism. They ask for a critique and when they get one--a constructive one--they fight back like lions trying to prove their stories work when they really don't. They can be boring, redundant, too derivative and so on.

I almost always change out my writing if a reader has a meaningful problem with an element of it. I do the same with my science writing when reviews of manuscripts come in, and adhere to the maxim, "if the reader can't understand it, then they can't understand it, and it has to be rewritten so they do."

The U.S. Geological Survey editorial process taught me that lesson and I never forgot it.

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“if the reader can't understand it, then they can't understand it“ Writers can do whatever they want with critiques, but this is such an important thing to consider!

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When I started my MA fall of 2021, Swim in the Pond was the first book I read on the syllabus. When I read the bit about how many drafts you do, I couldn’t get it. How? Why?

Now, I get it, and some of my stories are on a 20-30+ draft. And I love doing each one.

But! I don’t know if I have learnt enough to know to step far back enough before coming to sentence level editing. And this freaks me out. So far my tutors point out the structural flaws for me, the ones I miss because I am enjoying writing the story too much.

And even the stories I have which are 90% there and need the sentence level editing, I find I come back to and find a handful of errors/improvements to be made that I didn’t see. So then I worry I will never send anything good enough out to get anywhere.

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This calls to mind and article I read about Kubrick's creative process. This was so many years so I could be recalling it wrong. Kubrick would edit his films even after they were released. When he initially debuted 2001: A Space Odyssey it had voice over narration in the first 15 minutes and after seeing it, thinking it was too on-the-nose, he went back and edited it all out. Imagine that other version??

Anyway, I bet your 90% versions are great!

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Wow, that is really interesting. Reminds me of Alice Munro who is said to rewrite even published versions of her stories years later too!

How does one know when its right enough?

Thanks, that is very kind!

Often think this group should have splinter workshop groups.

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Perhaps you are doing this already, but if you put your story away for a few months you can see it with fresh eyes--almost as though someone else wrote the story. Then you can revise the parts you now see need work. From your post here, it sounds as though you are too close to your stories and need a bit of distance. Time is often the answer to so much in life!

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One way of solving the 90% problem is to work on a story until you're really sick of it and can't think of anything else to change, then send it out. If it's accepted, great! If not, some time will have passed and you can revise with fresh eyes. I guess all art in its "finished" state is really just "good enough" - you can always add another brushstroke!

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George, you're the one who's finally shown me that my problems with stalling out in my longer works are not actually problems at all, but just part of my own process. I can't overstate how deeply I feel gratitude towards you for this understanding. One would think I'd have worked this out long ago, but I doubt I'm the only one who's overcome this issue through reading along with you and your own process.

While other writers and even mentors have encouraged and urged me forward in the usual ways, by writing out your thought processes right next to your very own work I've managed to understand that how I go about things is indeed working for me and I just needed to recognize what I'm saying yes and no to with a sense of self-trust. I think I was quitting and restarting and quitting and restarting because something felt wrong. It wasn't wrong at all, I was simply sorting. It would be as if we go to clean the garage and get to the cans and cans of old paint and stop because we don't know what to do with each of them (we really love that shade of "thunder blue" we used on the front door two houses ago but don't really need it now and it's still in good shape, and yet... what to do with it) so we must not do anything else in the garage now until that is addressed, so we go inside and throw some pens out of the junk drawer and go to bed, the garage still a mess. Maybe the paint cans will have sorted themselves by morning. What nonsense! Decisions just need to be made. They can even just be moved while my brain is more gluey than the paint, I mean prose.

Thank you for this Substack and for posts like this one today. Well, for all of them, really, because people like me seem to need to hear things more than once or twice sometimes and in different ways.

You Story Clubbers might be amused to know that I started a short story based on last Sunday's post, comments, and then interactions that came of all that. I like that first part I set down, and it's got solid scaffolding for its first scene. (Shout out to Kurt here. haha)

Which is a way of saying that's the first part of my own process: get down one whole thing in the first sitting, whether the kernel of the big idea (like in a flash piece), or just the whole scene that excites me, or the feeling I'm trying to express through a poem, or the scene that matters in an essay I want to build upon. I try to do a whole thing each day. Then print (if I didn't write it by hand) as a way to affirm its solidity as a whole thing. With poems I often write several every day, most of them nothing I'll later develop, but I suppose it's a form of journaling, and I've been doing that all my life, so it's comfortable. Completing something at first go turns out to be essential for me in order to keep going on it later.

So, then I come back to it (or them if writing in multiple projects) the next day and see what part inspires me and I do that again, the complete thing. And then again. I almost never stall out on flash, poetry, and personal essays. It's the longer fiction and the memoir work that used to trouble me. Now, though, I understand that I was merely backing down from the wrestling match and from the sadness of moving out the pieces like you wrote and removed as you described here in this post. (They were lovely parts, I agree. What you had there was good stuff. How to just let them go unloved??) My darlings were dragging my process on my longer works. Not anymore, because I save them and sometimes they grow a little while I'm not looking at them, and then we meet again later and see what happens.

Plus, I just kind of had a messy logistical system for a while between my files and tools, and I've sorted all that now, also.

So: now I work each day until something feels satisfied, I save that "whole" thing in all my places, date it and print that whole bit, and know we'll meet again tomorrow to wrestle some more. I almost always have passion for something each day since I write in different genres, and keep many projects going at once. If I'm lagging with energy it'll be a skinny scene or a short poem, and when I'm stronger I write the longer stuff. But yeah, now I've learned to listen for the patterns that tell me it's working or that I'm being a bad conduit today of what that writing wanted to say: it's an uneasy feeling like the one you described, but to be clear it felt different for a while in the longer projects because there was a feeling mixed in that had a lot more to do with all the bulk of things, and I simply needed a better way to organize myself.

These comments today will no doubt add some length to my stride after I read them, also. You writers who show up here teach me so much in addition to what I learn from you, George. I'm just so happy this space exists because my writing brings me a lot of joy, and for a time I was just so confused about why some of it didn't seem to be working. Over that! Feels fantastic.

I'll let you all know if this current piece you inspired goes somewhere worth sharing.

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Traci, This is fabulous! (and am I the Kurt in your shout out?)

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Thank you. Yes, yes. Henceforth, you are my Architect Kurt, Designer of Written Things!

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Thank you so much! What a fabulous compliment and what an honor to be of service!

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Gosh. This feels so familiar to me. I love especially the garage-cleaning metaphor.

And this:

"So: now I work each day until something feels satisfied,"

I know that feeling but wasn't using it as you describe here. Thank you for giving me something to try.

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Traci, YES! I feel the same! “Not problems at all, but part of the process.” Like so many, I thought I was just simply a lousy writer. Now I see I had simply not listened to my own best advice: keep going!

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See? That right there is why you're so treasured in here, Mary. Writing readers will see that mary g. also self-doubts like a real human being and might each find the will to jump back in to their own projects, perhaps get back to dancing with whatever words are currently calling out for their chance at daylight. Who knows what you may have just unleashed with this comment?

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Self-doubt is my middle name. In real life, I’m a bit of a mess. But that’s why I write! (Thank you for this lovely comment.)

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This is such a great place for me to be right now, reading over these comments.

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Ditto, Sea. (I feel undercover not using the name I know you by... did I miss the reason for the switch-up?) I'm with ya! This post and its comments are proving motivational each time I return. Knowing something about others' process is invaluable to me so I saved this one in my library. (The ellipses "..." top right of George's post, the Save option, and accessible then ever after in our own inbox options.) I think I'll also go back and do that to the posts & comments I still return to mentally, which is useful to do at any time. Typically, I just read the comments on the day or two I've shown up and then miss what gets added after that first foray, but I know there's usually much new goodness to gather whenever I might check back in again later. One way I'm growing as a writer is to see a lot of something" as "wealth of opportunity" rather than as a temptation toward overwhelm around time, organization or perfectionism. Of course, that's different when in a structured workshopping setting (as I know you know about me), when I want to fully honor that trust and time commitment others place in me with their projects. This place of George's feels now like a weekly neighborhood pot-luck where all are welcome to come and go at will, and so many fun and brilliant people are walking around with tasty morsels on their plates, sharing with each other, saying, "Oh, you just have to try this one next! Here I have some for you." And then the recipes are right there next to each of their dishes so we can all potentially return home and have a go at making them ourselves using our own unique styles and favorite flavors.

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I changed my name because I'm a twisted, curious combination of gullible AND suspicious. In the beginning, I was wide open with all my information here, almost forgetting that, duh, it's social media! I noticed that many people don't use full names, and I thought that was wise, especially after there were two angry dudes posting here. Long gone, though. One stormed off in a huff, the other shrank away, so I became in that mode of "better safe than sorry." I've also done such dorky, clueless things in life, forgetting that not everyone is radiating kindness and generosity.

Glad to know you, Traci, glad we have contact. Love your comments!

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Wow, Traci. This is so perfect. And I relate to this " I almost never stall out on flash, poetry, and personal essays. It's the longer fiction and the memoir work that used to trouble me."

A writer spoke of how busy she was working as a journalist, and how her creative worked suffered, and that she'd felt bad, lost hope–– until she gave herself at least 15 minutes a day to work on her novel. Little chunks, bird by bird. That inspired me, because 15 minutes of sitting and writing is better than no writing!

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Yeah, I love those little birds! And I have such compassion for the anguish of a busy writer. Several years ago in a popular writing group for freelancers I learned that being very busy with the writing work of others can still be more helpful for some than doing paying work that is entirely unrelated to writing, as it keeps one's own projects mentally nearby and still processing. It was a useful revelation for me but I also saw that not everyone feels the same. There's a lot of mental work we writer-lens folks do while in the midst of other things and capturing some of a day's thoughts often gifts me something I might not know what to do with until much later. So I completely agree: 15 minutes of sitting (or standing or walking or even when resting) and writing even just those notes (lately I've come to include dictation to text for reasons of health accessibility) is better than no recording of the writing at all. It certainly feels more satisfying than that awful feeling of noticing a wonderful or seemingly vital thing and remembering that you did mentally hold that something important for a time but now no longer remember the What of it! Ugh. That's such a writer's torment. I might even say it's how to actually tell if you are a writer or not: do you suffer, actually suffer when not remembering an earth-splitting awareness you had just before sleeping, one that might have (surely) saved all humanity in some critical manner, but you were too sleepy to record the thing that was so important you'll never possibly forget it... but of course you did? Of course you did. Welcome to our team; here's your business card. You're now a writer.

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Yes, all of that! I, too have some health issues, can't sit for long periods of time, gotta keep moving the joints. I also purchased a standing desk by Jarvis, the hand crank kind.

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Thunder blue on the front door two houses ago is awfully good.

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Yeah, I like "thunder blue", too! A mash of the audio & the visual & I can see that color exactly!

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Yeah, it really was. I don't take my rooves for granted.

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Traci, I think I have half a can of "thunder blue" out in the shop! Rereading this post, I have to say that your process is inspiring to me. (So glad to have bought a laser printer -- a necessity.) I love that you keep several projects on-going. I started my substack because I needed a place for essays and poems, although I'm not very good at keeping up with it. I love your comments and always look for them.

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Aw, thank you, Nancy, for all of this. I had to laugh that you knew the color I referenced. Ha! Gorgeous color.

I never stewed over that can in reality; it went gummy and got thrown out. Wish all editing was so easy! A writer colleague memorialized that one for me, though, in a piece she did about quick and inexpensive tips for "curbside appeal". Can't remember now which online zine, something about real estate. I really did use that color on a home I once lived in when my kids were young, a home that was sadly lost in the 2020 Almeda Fire. (We weren't still there then but a lot of beloved neighbors were. You can see a lot of those homes in the Washington Post video "12 Hours Inside Oregon's Almeda Fire", but now I've wandered way off on a trail...)

I just followed your Substack and enjoy seeing your comments in here, as well... especially this one, of course! :D Go paint something Thunder Blue and then write about it for a post! Or not. Writing is such a freedom that way. Thank you for the comment. I'm moved that you're inspired. That's a lot of why I do any of this, truly.

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Traci, what he said, yes, I love this. It's clear and brilliant!

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This is potent for how relatable it is. One of my favorite things some accomplished writers do—you just did it, Stephen King has done it, often in hilarious ways, and Joyce Carol Oates sometimes tweets about it—is demystify the process by basically saying, "Hey y'all, I know what's going on when I do this, but also I don't, and it's sloppy sometimes." It's one of the most sincere ways someone who is in a position others aspire to can say that this isn't magic, it's work—but it's good work. Reading this reminded me of hearing my electrical engineer father, who was also an accomplished master electrician, talk about the slow, dirty grunt work of wiring a huge structure contrasted with the pristine organization of the finished junction box where all the wires exited their conduits, gathered just so and properly crimped and curled around copper screws. While reading, I had a specific memory of standing on the bare concrete floor of a vast warehouse, having proudly just assembled a two-story scaffolding by my 16-year-old self, and watching him study his work inside the box, then pull out a tool and make the most minute sets of adjustments before flipping a breaker and turning to watch the lights hum to life.

I've written a blue million words in the last 18 years, but all the work I got paid for was me telling someone else's story—events were set, I just had to find the most impactful way to tell readers about them, give them an overview, maybe put them at the scene. More time travel than creating something new. This edition of your newsletter reinforced for me that fiction isn't as different from nonfiction as I used to believe (it feels weird to admit this). The scenes crystallize and become alive, but sometimes they still end up being like a digression one of my editors once cut from a long-form article about early discoveries that led to uncovering previously hidden poisoning cases. Fascinating, I loved it, but it didn't belong. I kept it back and found a reason to use it in a different article later.

Thank you for your generosity and clarity, it's so encouraging.

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I like that you stay curious about where the story is going and watch meaning develop. Instead of making judgments--like this is crap, or I’m a genius. You are serving the story instead of the story serving you. You are a working man. Not an all-powerful lord of the writing realm. I think this humility is a big lesson in writing. Be here now. Don’t get spellbound by your thoughts and ideas. Dig beneath the surface where you are not in control and where the gold abides. I struggle with this.

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I loved this story of the story, the pondering. I adored the baby scene, the forwards and backwards of it - which seemed to me to about time, the space and perception of time. For me the hardest part is knowing what is good, what should remain. I nearly dumped a whole scene once but fortunately had a mentor - thanks to the New Zealand Society of Authors - and he thought it was brilliant. And it has stayed and now I do see it as intrinsic to a main character and the story. It has been edited very little from that first draft and it was written in a great gush like water sliding and splashing down black rocks to a pool of meaning. Perhaps most writers, like me, are taunted by voices that question and query and find it difficult to discern the difference between the negative, critical parent - the inner voice that says 'you can't do this' and the useful voice that knows that this particular darling, is not meant to stay.

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For me it’s sometimes like cleaning out the housed. On some days I’m in total declutter-mood and everything has to go. On other days I’m seeing a reusable future in every object in my handed. Same with writing. Some days I’m the radical critic and other days the nurturing nurse of every possible little seedling. That’s why I like George’s approach to look at a piece of writing day after day (and maybe save those cut out parts until I know they need to go for good.)

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Saige, i so resonate with that analogy of the negative, critical parent vs. the wise inner critic. Takes a lifetime of ongoing practice to learn to discern the difference. I'm halfway there myself!

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Thank you! It can be exhausting. I have found it helpful to find another pair of eyes. I'm going to think about whether the difference between the helpful inner critic and the unhelpful judgemental critic. If I can discern the difference hopefully I will know which one to kick to the kerb!

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Might it sometimes be in the tone of the critic's voice?

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Yes! I love this discussion, Lynne. A helpful critical voice would be kind in tone. We could work on making that helpful voice louder than the unhelpful worthless critic. Forward we go, into the light!

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ah ha, another Kiwi here. Where is the Saige? And when is her debut out.

Yes, sometimes the urge to kill or not to kill comes from a similar sounding voice, the scoundrels. Blast, missed another Sargeson deadline!

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Kia ora Iam, good to meet you. Love your surname. My grandmother was a Champ which is a lot less grand than Beauchamp. Aren't all fields beautiful?! I'm in Ōtautahi, Christchurch. 'The Seasonwife' is being published by Bateman Books NZ and will be in good bookshops from August 7th. Launch is August 9th at Scorpio Bookshop. If you are down here I can send you details to come along.

My email is saigevendome@gmail.com

Yes re the Sargeson! Wouldn't the money be lovely!

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Morena Saige,

Aye, fields are beautiful, Mansfield especially. Started my writing at Hagley then did a year with The Hagley Theatre Company. Many, many years in Otautahi. Knew Scorpio when that icon was in Shands Emporium before the big shakeup. Certain to be there August 9th. Your books title 'The Seasonwife' reminds me of Thom Conroy's 'The Salted Air' Hah. Studied writing under Thom at Massey in Palmy, 2008. Living back home in lake Takapo so not far away from the big smoke. Will email for details of launch. 'Aint this Club a gas!!

Iam.

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It's so good to meet you via George's helpful, insightful substack, Iam. I look forward to meeting you in person at the launch. You've clearly had some great guides for the craft and this space is another. Keep writing!

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This is terrific! I'm in the midst of revising a story now, and I could definitely identify with feeling optimistic about the Good Bits. I'm very intrigued with the idea that the problems get increasingly harder - this is so helpful, b/c that's just what might tend to discourage me. (As in, WHY is this getting more and more difficult, instead of "behaving" for me?)

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I never have trouble improvising some situation or other to entertain myself with for a day/week/month. I have trouble turning that into a story. I draw a lot of pyramids. I like how form forces me further and deeper and almost invariably ‘going there’ is allowing myself the drama or the over the top idea I shied away from at the beginning. Even so, I often don’t finish. But in my three whole years of being a writer I find I do cannablise old work relentlessly and it does all get used at some point. Most recently a three thousand word story ended up as a four hundred word one with different characters - but I knew where it began. Some stories still live on in my brain, some I forget completely but I know when I read them again there’d be a sentence or a character I can use.

When I get to the stage when I am sure of the story I’m just not sure I’m sending it to the right place, that’s a very satisfying place to be. These are the ones that get published partly because I don’t give up on them.

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Stop eating your creative Self!^^

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Jun 29, 2023·edited Jun 30, 2023

I got it into my head a few years back to focus not on how the ending happens or how to get there. Instead, I try to focus on the fact that what I want most is to leave the reader (or audience or whatever) feeling something (ideally strongly). The equivalent of nailing a joke and walking out of the room - “thats all for me! Goodnight, everybody!”.

I’ve found that as I have fun (mostly toil) putting down the building blocks of the story I get a sense of potential feelings I could create for the piece’s climax/departure. If any of those feel “undeniable” as George puts it (thanks for that clarifying term, George), I then try to revise to build to that departure, aiming to maximize that feeling in the audience.

I spent years focusing more on outlining and plotting rather than just doing the writing. This made me over-focus on the logic of how everything fit together, and usually I'd end up just quitting on the story I'd plotted so much.

Instead, simply writing more and focusing on feeling my way through something - entertaining the fancies of the story that pop into my head - has helped me keep moving. I think it builds more confidence in both myself and in the story.

I'm more trusting in myself and more trusting in the mystery of the process (I guess??).

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Love the "frisson" - it's the real deal. I'm working on a piece, often, and get the frisson at the end, but the middle isn't doing it. And so and so and so. And when the story is done, is the frisson still there at the end? Is it? Is It? No, not quite, because because - because there is a piece in the middle where there has to be this 'pre-frisson," and it's not there. Yet?

I loved this part too: I had healed them, through the holy miracle of revision.

Bless you, George. For me you are the the angel of the art I love, the art that makes my day worth living.

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Frisson, is that a type of cooked eggs?^^

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founding

No, you're thinking of frittata; frisson is what happens to your hair when you've been caught walking in the rain... :)

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Well, my 'frisson' has nothing to do with eggs - so far. But I was quoting George, and his frissons may have eggs all over their faces! But I doubt it.

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As I was reading this and digesting it, a story began projecting in the front of my mind. I was reading about process, processing and creating simultaneously. Does anyone get that? It's like a buzzy coloured fog. I also love the part when something weird happens and pokes it's way in without you expecting it.

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To answer the question how I know if a story is working or not: If it’s a shorter text, like a short story or a children’s book, there seems to be a sort of zing or click for me. I don’t know how else to describe it. There will be a satisfied feeling at the pit of my stomach: Yes, this, this is it. It might come right away (rarely), after a while, or perhaps picking up a text that has been sleeping in the archives for years, where I suddenly see why it wasn’t working and what I can do to make it zing. It’s incredibly nebulous and difficult to describe. But I just know.

With novels it’s different, more searching, less certain. I can turn in a novel to my publisher and honestly not know if it’s anything or not. I wonder why that is? I think I might get so involved in the text that I can’t step back and see it clearly.

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They are such different beasts--a short story and a novel. Hard if not impossible to compare them, I think.

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I agree. Yet for me it somehow I feels like writing should be writing regardless. I often struggle to accept that different texts need to be borne in entirely different ways.

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Zing is good, Maria. My solar plexus is what signals the "rightness", gives off a zing.

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