Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Today's Mood: Relaxed. Today's Music: Lifehouse. Today's Writing: IFFY. Today's Quote:
"I would write a book, or a short story, at least three times--once to understand it, the second time to improve the prose, and a third to compel it to say what it still must say. Somewhere I put it this way: first drafts are for learning what one's fiction wants him to say. Revision is one of the exquisite pleasures of writing: 'The men and things of today are wont to lie fairer and truer in tomorrow's meadow,' Henry Thoreau said." -Bernard Malamud
Peninsula Writers' summer conference was all about process. Mary Ann Samyn, the keynote speaker, said "I write every day, but I define writing very broadly." She spoke of process as 'paying attention'. Noticing everything--even all the little things that make up a day, like folding laundry and mowing the lawn. What smells are associated with those tasks? What emotions? So often we go through life on autopilot, just doing our chores, our business without really thinking about it. As writers we need to PAY ATTENTION. Mary Ann said it helps her to think of the day as "on loan".

I like this idea. Somehow it makes the day seem a bit different--special somehow. And it certainly makes me notice things more. It reminds me of when my car was in the shop and they gave me a loaner car. I still did my regular errands--work, picking up kids, going to the grocery store--but it was different. Even the kids payed more attention to the way the car felt, sounded, smelled. I was more intentional about things. Intention is defined as "done by intention or design. Intent = directed with keen attention. If I go about my day with intention, I am keenly aware of everything. The same follows if I go about my writing with intention.

The other thing that struck me about Mary Ann's talk on Process, was her comment that writers need to stay "crouched down" by their writing. We need to stay close to the writing. Even when it gets tough. Especially when it is tough. Going back to her definition of writing, I don't think that means I need to keep hammering away at the keyboard even when it isn't working--at least, not always. Sometimes the 'butt in chair' method does work for me. But there are other ways of remaining "crouched down". (Isn't that a great phrase? Gives me such a good picture.)

Samyn said she takes her writing with her wherever she goes. Literally. She prints off the poem she is working on and takes it with her--to get her oil changed. To work. Wherever. That way she can keep working on it even when she isn't actively writing it. Helps to have a pen or pencil with you as well.

Mary Ann also reads it aloud. Again and again. Hence the idea of taking it with you wherever you go. Listen to how it sounds. What pictures does your brain display as it hears the words, the story? Somehow the words change when they are spoken. A weird alchemy occurs. I have experienced this with my small writing group--when I read my piece of writing out loud to them, I catch things I didn't before. Knowing that they are listening makes me hear it different. That's why my small writing group is such an important part of my process.

So, where does that leave us? I've heard the writing process defined in a lot of different ways. Some have worked for me, some have not. The older (and better, I hope) I get, the more I realize how each person's writing process is unique. Do you like Mary Ann's definition of "paying attention"? How would you define it?

Most of all--keep writing!