I've done an awful job transcribing notes from my experiences with the Loft mentorship, so I will start here, with our last meeting with fiction writer Susan Power. And I must say, before I delve into my notebook, that I highly recommend her work. We read Roofwalker for our mentorship group and all of us absolutely loved it.
This was a reading weekend, and at the Q&A, she spoke of how there's that saying write what you know, but a writer once told her she ought to write what you need to know instead. (I love this; it's so critical to what I'm in the thick of Right Now.)
When asked about writing pain, she confessed she's attracted to the juicier parts, so she writes those first, leaving the connective tissue to writing later.
On the business of writing
- In thinking of change or letting a book go: "I'm not going to give up on my characters. I'm not going to give up on my stories."
- As a judge, she's concerned about carelessness.
- Never forget what you are serving, first and foremost. Portrayal of authenticity / clear vision backed with reason. In creation process, simply follows, doesn't understand reasons at the time, but in revision. Often stands ground when she feels she is being edited culturally. Watch when we / our work is being treated as a product. What we do is sacred.
- Manage expectations. Aim for the world, but don't expect the world. Always be on guard for agendas of others--pressures from business or even family members. Know what is reasonable for you. Remember that your job is to be as authentic as you can be about your writing. Don't apologize for your process, your journey. Each writer, each project is different. Realize you are called to do different things and each needs something different. (Be OK with that.)
- One writer, when talking about the way we compare ourselves to other writers (or reviewers do): "It's like there's no more room at the table."
- Another writer said she "enjoys the ancestry," and that it "causes [her] to feel less alone."
- Somewhere in there, we talked about the conversations we have with books--about how, when we are pushing to do something unique, to think of our work as conversing with what came before, and know that everything on the shelf is speaking to something else on the shelf.
I wrote to myself: This discussion of Getting A Book exhausts and depresses me, this honesty and wishing. I think it's because I've been wishing so hard and long for my full-length. I'm worrying about so many things.
We had two writing exercises:
- Interviewing. This one can be adapted in many ways, but Susan uses it to help jumpstart a stuck place. Often she'll set up an interview for one of her characters to get at answers she cannot logically come to on her own. Sometimes, as in a piece she's worked on recently, another character entirely shows up to answer the questions. The response was complicated, but good. It can be a generative exercise: write ten general questions and see how they get answered by a character, a not-even-a-seed character, no-one in mind. Just go. Or, if you are writing nonfiction, a way to imagine how someone might have answered those questions, or someone else, just to get a better understand of the situation. Another way to do this is to do it in role-playing with a writing partner. For me, during the exercise, what called me was to really follow the development of the questions themselves; I'd like to interview my mother about her attitudes towards her pregnancy with me and my sister to see what it might do to my current poetry manuscript.
One student suggested writing with a non-dominant hand. She said she was surprised at some of the results she got. Another writer spoke of how she would let herself lose complete control in freewriting and once dreamed up a daughter for couple-friends who had no plans for children and were heading into unbearing years and not long after, that friend called with News.
Other exercise suggestions:
- Create a list of characters such as the patron saint of liars (after Ann Patchett) and see what roles come out.
- What if your character walked to the "wrong" end of the rainbow? Let the character contend with that object. (Not a "wrong" object--but, say, a baby)
- Another writer suggested the technique of mind-mapping
Each session we've had with Susan, I've come away rethinking my manuscript deeply, and that surprised me. I thought, perhaps, nonfiction would influence me--after all, this is confessional, very naval-gazing stuff, but fiction certainly isn't a realm I'm comfortable in. But, as with many things, it does depend on the instructor and her ability to draw in students. I found her energy inspiring--she looks to opening yourself up to receiving your creative impulses. Characters arrive and speak to her. She follows, doesn't question. Generation is a magical thing.