I’m knee-deep in thesis-land at the moment, which explains fewer posts of late. However I had some time for this.
The other day I was inspired by Anna Spargo-Ryan’s blog and her Q and A about writing. She has a way with words. But the questions she answered got me thinking. So it meant I had to completely borrow (borrowing is a tribute-y thing) the same questions she answered. They’re not the questions I would ask me, which is why I thought it was worthwhile trying to answer them in my own way…thanks Anna:)
WHAT AM I WRITING?
After about 10 years of writing short stories and other stuff now is season of my novella. It’s the creative part of a creative writing thesis I started last year, but I have been thinking about for a while. It’s about a person discovering upon her father’s death that her grandmother was an archaeologist who travelled the world and then settled down to pursue a monomania. So it’s about digging up the past, and death, secrets, history and landscape. All the usual suspects.
HOW DOES MY WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS IN ITS GENRE?
It differs because I’m writing it! This novella is literary-historical fiction, but not too post-modern. Mainly I hope the subject matter for this project is a bit ‘little, yellow, different’, to quote um, Wayne’s World. But not so different that I alienate readers. There is a balance when telling a story about a historical person few people have heard of. This aint Wolf Hall, so I need to introduce the character, but not make the story so detail-heavy the plot is bogged down by stuff the reader doesn’t need to know, just because I did the research. And unlike Hilary Mantel I have a strict word limit so scene-setting must be to the point.
Any-who, beyond that I believe the main way every writer distinguishes themselves is through voice. Language is like a palette for a visual artist. There are particular colours and patterns I am drawn to, and ideas I want to explore. Except words are the colours and phrases and themes are the patterns. I’m pretty excited about my particular idea, because it was in part inspired by two real people who were ignored for a long time until recently, so I think it’s on the verge of a zeitgeist (I said zeitgeist, sorry, I really didn’t mean it). As far as I know few people have set novels/stories where mine is set so there is that.
WHY DO I WRITE WHAT I DO?
I thought I could maybe write. So I did a TAFE course that included short story writing. Turns out I love short story writing, which I should have remembered since I loved writing them since I was in grade four, when I wrote my first story. Anyway…as everyone says writing short stories doesn’t pay bills but they mostly fit my ability to concentrate, my available time and my need for a sense of accomplishment at actually finishing something. So many times I’ve started novels and just got bogged down or distracted. Getting a story done is a confidence booster, getting a story published even more so. However, it doesn’t mean I’m a prolific writer – some short stories take a while to find their shape and longer again to find publication. As for themes I’m interested in the same things I’ve always been interested in – what if questions, history, mythology, death, hidden things, landscape, language, arcane stuff, building up a scene, but plots and events or triggers percolate for ages. I listen to people, go to the museum, read, dabble in social media, watch the news and out of all that and my own personal experiences something bubbles up. Often it changes. The novella I’m writing has been planned for years, but it’s turning out quite differently to how I imagined. One character who wasn’t really meant to be in the story at all has taken over and the character who was going to be the main focus is more of a background figure. I also raided a novel I started for the much of the setting because it needed a home and I needed a familiar landscape to ground it. Once I had that place I could riff on contrasts and similarities with other locations the story is set.
HOW DOES MY WRITING PROCESS WORK?
Not convinced it does really work. But it goes something like: have idea or nice phrase. Write it down. Email it to myself. Or scribble it in my notebook. Sometime I will develop a paragraph or two when I’m at the noodle place waiting for dinner, or during a break at work. I write in the afternoons and evenings as I get home from work before the rush hour. If I am planning a story I throw everything I can at the page and while that sorts itself out, read for background – if it’s a tiny story I may only read a reference book or check online. This novella is different though because it is longer and because it is part of a thesis. So it’s a story in itself but also a response to some research questions I had. I haven’t written a story in this way before. As part of a thesis there is the exegesis where I defend what I’ve done, it has been a lot of reading – everything from books of letters by explorers to translations of ancient poetry.
Mostly I’m at the laptop in the study at home. I’ll write, work with it, write some more, go away, think about it, edit and write some more. Drafting is constant. For this story I set up a structure first and divided up all the writing into little chapters and then decided who said what and when and where. This planning is a bit of a departure, usually I don’t always know in advance what will happen, but in this case the last little chapterlet was the second thing I wrote after the introduction, which is now not the introduction. It both helps and hinders that since I’m referencing some real stuff as plot markers. Currently I’m working through my supervisor’s edits and questions, which have been very helpful, as have the deadlines because they keep the momentum up.