Saturday, July 29, 2006

Mechanics of Writing

Posted by Trent Walters at 9:51 AM
This was too long, so I'll post the rest later. Besides, they went off-topic. I'll leave a cliff hanger where Zebroski asks Bacigalupi how he wrote "Calorie Man."

James Gunn asked: "How do you manage to write?"

Panel participants (in this section):

Lou Anders
Paolo Bacigalupi
Bradley Denton
James Gunn
Pamela Sargent
George Zebroski

JG: Silverberg wrote 25 pages/day and sold them. Got an office next to a prolific mystery writer, who said he couldn’t write a word listening to Silverberg typing. Later, Silverberg wrote it out by hand until he got it right and became most methodical. [Siverberg had a few different periods of writing: Early (fair), Flowering (60s-70s, considered some of his best), and Renewal (80s+, more lush, richly imagined, usually), but I didn't ask which period this was]

PB: Steady accretion. 1000 words/day If he has started, it's easy to keep going. Getting going is the hard part. Rented office space above bookstore. Structure of office has helped. Works on ideas without sense of where story’s going. Starts with character, then throws in another. Plays with character/scene until "Oh!" Writes scenes with resonance but without knowing where it's going. [Perhaps an inner resonance?] Once he has structure, it goes faster. Goes thru until can’t think of what to do with it. Hands to mother and friends--readers outside of genre--so that they know what he’s talking about. They say what they think it’s about. Asks whether certain intended ideas are clear.

GZ: Has office on one end of house. 2 ways of writing. 1) At computer from notes, pieces, plans. Quick process because prepared. 2) Keeps notebooks all over house. Grabs them when ideas occur. Can be work that he’s been working on. Also has “open door” -- needs distraction to let things come up. Doesn’t let things by that happen that way. Has a “secret shift” where his thoughts are stuffed. 30-40 stories accreting this way. Though [they] may not be the main thing he’s working on. Distractions allow new ideas to come in. Sometimes has a vision of novel. If in shower, has to remember so he can write things when gets out. Judges ideas when awake and rested. If tired, won’t judge the ideas. Process is unstoppable, never runs out. Won’t telephone in the midst of work. Inspired by talking with people. [How do you know when it’s finished?] Shows passages to PS. They don’t depend on each other to solve each other’s problems. Sometimes he gets story idea, but thinks Pam would do a better at it though she rejects 9/10 ideas.

PS: Having a place that you only write is important. Worked in one corner of the room. Got used to falling asleep to the sound of George’s typewriter. Operant conditioning: That place is used for only one thing. Don’t dine there afterwards. Have a habit of when you know you’re going to write. Don’t even ask IF you’re going to write. Don’t decide. You ARE. Time of day doesn’t matter. Now that I’m working outside of writing--had structured full-time writing around a regular day--work-days you have to structure writing around that. On bus to work, she thinks about things, works out story problems. Carrying around a small notebook helps.

JG: First thing that new writer has to learn is that he writes better at one time than another. Don’t think you have to have special circumstances to write.

PB: If wakes up and move to write, he can write all day. Once awake, brain can’t tell him to stop. Easily distractable and will go do those [errands].

PS: Used to warm up writing personal letters. Email doesn’t work that way. Email may distract all day, so doesn’t look at until end of day.

GZ: Sometimes does something while tired, stressed and overextended, but can look good next day.

BD: His methods are similar to those described. He Gets chores done in morning. Starts at 1 and works for 5 - 5 1/2 hours. Dogs sleep behind chair. At four dogs let him know its time to walk. Started [keeping a] notebook because [he kept] forgetting ideas.

GZ: Terrified of forgetting. Notes get combined: sometimes 3 different files he realizes belong together. Like Sorcerer’s apprentice: Brooms bring in buckets of water[ideas].

LA: Journalism taught him to write every day. Developed habit. Writing is not inspiration. Now gets burst of inspiration toward deadlines. Took 2 different play and slammed together. Similar to Shakespeare in Love. Waited too long to sell because American Pie came out--only teen comedies sold.

JG: Do you have trouble turning off the internal critic?

PS: Yes I do. Hard to turn off.

GZ: Reader-critic likes X (early critic has to fall in love); the later critic wants to throw everything out.

PB: Has a hard time turning the critic off, especially if [the story's] too obvious (see ending before wandering into it). Go through scenes. Likes when he first read them, but later thinks he was on crack when he wrote or rewrote. Goes back to earlier versions to decide which version better. Middle scenes hard. Has lack of clarity during initial stages--easy to get muddled. Early on forced self to finish a story, which meant he had to work on despite critic. Now he is able to write several stories at once.

GZ: Sometimes a story is a reward to work on after you get this story done.

PB: His inner editor asks: Is it important or an entertainment? Is it okay to write an entertainment? Lately, allowed self to write entertainment.

GZ: Critics get together: Is this as good as you can get it? Once had an idea he never turned into a story: two astronauts orbiting Earth. Mormons have underground records to baptize non-believers into Mormonism, happening without knowledge. Atomic war occurs. “Now we’re all Mormons.” Why haven’t I written it?

PS: Because it sucks. [Laughter]

GZ: Sometimes if you have too much of a point, it becomes an editorial.

BD: The more I write, the worse it gets. Outline, carefully detailed. Never at a loss for what happens next. Now finds a better path and has to write a new outline. My favorite part is the blue pencil and marking m.s. up. Cut out all that doesn’t matter. Sentences are as good as he can make them. Doesn’t know what else to do with it, then hands it to his wife, Barb. She reads more quickly.

PB: Writes until nothing left for him to do. Never hands over if still has an idea of what he can do. Tries ruthlessly to get it [done?].

PS: Otherwise we get so derailed from process.

GZ: If enough filters. Started from old notes for short short--even if theme anthology [That is, he searches his notes for theme anthologies and doesn't try to come up with an idea at the spur of the moment because, presumably, these ideas had already inspired him]. Abandoned working on his earlier talk. If he had kept refining it, it would have been a book.

Paolo, how did you write “The Calorie Man,” from creation to finish?


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