Thursday, October 22, 2009


I'm always interested in hearing about the "process" of other writers. (Quotation marks used because I'm not even sure what it means; process is a mystery, and every writer is different.)

So I fairly regularly check out the New York Times "Stray Questions" series. Writers get asked the same three questions:

1) What are you working on now?

2) Describe a typical day in your writing life.

3) What have you been reading or recommending lately?

Pretty standard boilerplate questions, I know. But it's the second one that gets the most interesting responses.

The most recent writer queried was Michelle Wildgen, author of the newly released novel But Not For Long and an editor at Tin House.

Her process seems similar to mine, especially the "mental coaxing" part:

"...I’m usually in front of my computer by about 10, getting a few e-mails out of the way (again, so I can concentrate, a recurring theme), and then rereading what I wrote the previous session or doing really elementary copy edits, all in the hopes of getting in the mindset to move forward. I do a lot of this kind of mental coaxing — little stretches and rereading and meandering toward the world of the story. I never just throw myself in front of my laptop and start writing, though I wish I did. I try to write toward something — toward a scene, toward an idea I know I want to get to, even just toward an evocative pairing of words that’s been on the tip of my tongue for a few days. I try to leave myself something to start with the next day, so I can’t feel completely stymied...

"I know it isn’t coal mining, but I’m generally pretty tired after a good four or five hours of writing. Then I can turn to lighter editing, less exhausting writing or any kind of work that uses a less generative part of the brain. If I’m really sapped, I just start cooking dinner so I can get out of my head entirely. As for actual workspace, no matter where I live, I always unintentionally turn my office into something distinctly garret-like, to the point that when someone offered to photograph me at my writing desk, I opened the door and he just went mute with pity. I never have music playing, and I never go to a coffee shop or anything. I stay home in my garret with the blinds down."

Well, there are some significant differences. I don't write during the day, and spending four- or five-hour stretches on my fiction just doesn't happen these days. And I don't have a garret.


katrina said...

I'm always interested in process as well. Thanks for pointing this one out. Do you write at night? I admire people who can do that.

Andrew Roe said...

Hi Katrina. I do write at night (although I haven't been doing much lately, I'm afraid). And it's not by choice. Just the way life (work, family, kids, etc.) is right now. I find that I do my best writing in the morning when I'm still waking up and my brain is a bit hazy.