Our Writerly Roundup blog series features a curated collection of articles on the craft of writing and the creative life that we don’t want you to miss.
3 Strategies for Staying Productive as a Writer, Tom Farr (@farrtom), Hippocampus Magazine
Tom Farr is probably like most of us: he gets overwhelmed by the amount of work on his plate. Some of that work is his own writing; much of it is freelance. In this piece, Farr offers three simple strategies for dealing with the dips in productivity we all experience. He likens the process of writing to building with Legos. Some of us just dive right in and come up with our own creation, but having a blueprint often helps initiate the creative process.
Farr stresses the importance of giving ourselves the chance to write freely within the confines of our first draft and to avoid the backspace key.
When I need to get a lot written in a short amount of time but I also want it to be quality writing, I force myself to avoid the backspace. The first draft of anything should be terrible. It’s your first attempt at creating something new, and first attempts are always plagued with flaws. Just look at a baby trying to walk for the first time.
Many writers have the urge to revise as they go. Farr cautions against this practice, reminding us that some of the best ideas are not necessarily our first ideas, that they may spark from a messy paragraph. Clarity, he says, comes late in the game.
Writing the first draft is the act of creating the raw material out of which your best writing will emerge. Whether I’m writing a story or an essay, I always find that when I go back through my initial writing with an eye for revision, new and better ideas always come to mind. I might discover a sentence in one paragraph fits better in another or that a whole paragraph needs to be moved somewhere else. Maybe an idea for new content to add comes to mind or perhaps I’ll see that some of the content I originally included needs to be cut.
Though seemingly simple, Farr’s piece gives us food for thought when it comes to organization and productivity.
In Praise of Kid-Speak, Patrick Hueller (@callmebirdbones), Fiction Writers Review
Patrick Hueller’s title implies that he’s focusing on language, but the subject of this in-depth essay is actually the idea of narrative distance or
the space—measured in years and access to hindsight—between the narrative and the childhood or adolescent events (kidhood, we’ll call it) being narrated. While there are many advantages and disadvantages to either protracting or constricting this distance—many of which I’ll consider in the next few pages—perhaps the greatest benefit of writing about kidhood from a kid’s point of view is the dramatic possibilities of trapping a protagonist or narrator in his/her present, in his/her right now, without reference to the broader, more reflective environs of adulthood.
Hueller encourages the reader to consider the idea of kidhood as a tool for craft. Just as the child’s point of view offers a chance to shape the story, we can also use temporal distance to our advantage. The wisdom of hindsight, after all, doesn’t arrive after a few years; we write about youthful adventures long after they actually occur.
The reason we’re given the glimpse into the future has little or nothing to do with the adult narrator’s duty to divulge what happens next; it’s to expand—and complicate—the drama of the present scene.
Providing examples in the writing of Tobias Wolff and Mark Twain, and also within his own memories, Hueller reminds us that it’s important to consider forward movement and the expanse of time as important storytelling devices, both of which have the potential for crafting a narrative with a specific feel.
Emotion is Not Plot: Using Detachment to Create Powerful Fiction, Claire Rudy Foster (@verasententia), Cleaver Magazine
Writing is feeling, right? Isn’t our goal, as writers, to share our feelings? Claire Rudy Foster disagrees in this essay on communicating feeling to the reader. She writes that our job is not to transmit emotion to our readers but instead to translate it into something meaningful. It’s not necessarily about all the feels, as the popular colloquialism goes.
Foster writes as both a reader and an author:
Reading Kundera or Dostoyevsky or Nabokov, I am transported. Writing of this caliber opens a doorway to that other world, the place where it’s safe to feel despair, passion, and all the reckless emotions that would wreak havoc in our real lives. Do I need to point out that this “other world” is a carefully crafted creative illusion? Would you be disappointed if I did?
Foster does a good job of reminding us why the feels shouldn’t carry the weight of our words. Sharing our feelings won’t necessarily facilitate good writing. We have to do the work.
The words that move us exist on a sheet of paper enclosed between two covers that can be shut and put back on the shelf or thrown down on the bed beside you when you’ve had enough. Good writing allows a reader to sample from the spectrum of emotions safely; it transmits emotion subtly, as an electric current can cause a muscle fiber to twitch.
7 Reasons Why Every Writer Should Journal, Michael David Wilson (@wilsonthewriter), LitReactor
Nothing on this list is going to come as a great surprise. We probably all know we should be journaling. However, Wilson’s reminders are a good way to jump-start (or re-jump-start) the journaling process. While it requires a few moments each day, it may save us from drowning when we’re staring down the white page. If nothing else, journaling is daily practice.
If you struggle with a daily writing routine this is a great way to guarantee you’re writing something. Sure it might not be deep, creative work. It may not be your magnum opus but practice is important. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers he asserts it takes ten thousand hours to achieve mastery in a discipline. Practice might not make perfect, but it’ll help make you a better and more competent writer.
Wilson includes a few helpful journaling apps at the end for anyone who needs a little extra nudge. I certainly do.
Expanding the MFA Debate: On Mentorship, Jennifer Savran Kelly (@savranly), Grist Journal
The recent talk about the value of an MFA degree continues, but here Jennifer Savran Kelly focuses on mentorship within the writing community. As a working mother, Kelly had a difficult time fitting an MFA into her life, nor was she accepted into her local MFA programs. In this essay, Kelly recalls how she found an alternate channel that led her into a partnership with a valued mentor.
Although we live across the country from each other, from the start, Amy and I connected both about writing and on a personal level. And we were both eager to dig into the work. AWP provided a series of modules to spark discussion between us, on topics ranging from the craft of writing to the business of publishing to how to find your writing community. Amy and I enjoyed those conversations, but the bulk of our work together came in the form of workshopping my novel-in-progress. Or, as I’ve come to call it, novel counseling.
She concludes with a reminder that the writing community and the relationships we form can be just as valuable as a diploma:
MFA or no MFA, I am convinced that the most inspiring thing a developing writer can do is to seek out a mentor. As I’ve found, they come in many shapes and forms, and I’ve been lucky to have more than one.
Have you participated in a mentorship outside of an MFA program such as AWP’s Writer to Writer Mentorship Program? Tell us about your experience in the comments!
Have you read a compelling article about craft or the creative life that you think should appear in the next Writerly Roundup? Please send links to lmblogcontact (at) literarymama (dot) com—we’d love to hear your input!