Getting into Shape: End of Week 15

Here’s what this week’s stats look like.

Beginning Wii Weight: 223.8 (My heaviest ever after this summer.)
Wii Weight on 2-6-14: 207
Total: 16.8 pounds LOST

Weight Watchers on Initial Weigh In: 224
Weight Watchers on 2-4: 209.4 (an overall loss of .8 for the week)
Total: 14.6 pounds LOST

Backtracking: That two pound gain was indeed a sham. This is a disadvantage of weighing in and taking a body test every morning. You have to realize that your weight can vary up to two pounds from one day to the next.

Interesting stuff: I have weighed as low as 206.4 this week, on Saturday. The last 4 days I have stayed in the same range, with a mere 0.2 pound variance. Much too early to call that a plateau. Plateaus are weeks, not days.

Challenges: Another trip to Minnesota this weekend. This is the second trip I’m taking since I’ve started this. I still plan to exercise, but I have not stocked up on goodies this time. I should pick up some stuff, tonight, before I go, so I am not lame when we have a late lunch or dinner. *makes note to self*

Eating out. All we’ve been doing this week, it seems, with our ridiculous snow removal, rotten weather and our work schedule. I’ve been finding some good things to eat.

Fake Heart Attack: Another GI cocktail in the emergency room on Monday, so I am also hampered by “the bland.” Getting your fruits and veggies in with “the bland” is a challenge. Still, we lost weight last week, and we’re staying the same right now.

For fitness, I’m off the Wii for a bit. I’ve been doing two things this week: either incredible amounts of snow removal, OR walking and watching Rome Season One, because Netflix refuses to send me Mission: Impossible Season 3. Damn, Rome is a good show! It’s enough to make you exercise. 😛

See you next week, and we’re hoping for at least another 0.4 pounds, so Weight Watchers can legitimately say I’ve lost 15 with them. Being thinner does not suck. I mean, shoveling snow is tough. But not like it was 15 pounds ago.

Stay warm. Stay safe.

The Writing Process and Gregory Frost

My first meeting with Gregory Frost was when he sat down before my Baba Yaga panel. It was Wiscon, 2007, and we talked a little about Baba Yaga. Then he introduced himself as Gregory Frost, and I said, “My God! You’re that guy who wrote Fitcher’s Brides! That book scared me to death!” or words to that effect. And then after my panel he invited me on over to the Armless Maiden panel he was on, and that was cool. And later, much later, we hung out at a party his friend and mine Denny Lynch threw for him, due to his Mindbridge Roots. Greg is a teacher, a writer, a scholar, and a truly thoughtful individual, as this interview reveals. Please enjoy!

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Tamago: Do you have a regular drafting process, or does your drafting process vary from book to book. Can you describe it to us generally, or at least for one project?

Greg: I think I have a specific process, but it is certainly a shape-shifting one. I usually approach a story or novel with a fountain pen and notebook first. Sometimes I’ll draft an entire story that way, start to finish. Other times longhand seems to be more a process of experimenting, trying out a series of different approaches—sometimes it’s me writing a half dozen different opening paragraphs or writing what turns out to be biographical information about a character. Often that whole “zero” draft is written longhand. There is something, for me, about the tactility of writing (or scribbling) the words out by hand; and also a sense of freedom in it, in that I’ve been doing it long enough that writing with a pen is almost play. I’ve moved into a mindset where it’s allowed to be play, it doesn’t count. So it gets to be a mess. Or wrong. A way to the story perhaps. But it’s quite freeing.

Sometimes, though, I’ll switch to the laptop at the point of catching the story. It’s all very much instinctual. As I tell writing classes, you have to figure out what works for you and do that. If that stops working, try something else. Be flexible, and uncritical in the earliest stages. Go with what works, and be willing to make mistakes. One of my favorite quotes about creativity is Charlie Parker saying, “If you don’t make a mistake, you aren’t trying hard enough.”

Tamago: Do you use a different drafting process for short stories versus novels?

Greg: There are similarities…I mean, in both cases I’m pulling scenes, images, dialogues out of my head and trying them out; but I believe that a person can write short stories without ever requiring an outline. It’s a small enough thing that you can wrap your arms around the whole of it while you’re writing it, even accounting for changes you encounter as you go. To me short stories are more like poems than they are like novels. And I’m not even talking about 300 word flash fictions where you really are paring it down to the size of a poem. Stories are aiming for a single, final effect, however you care to define that.

A novel is, for me, simply too enormous to attack without some sort of narrative structure sketched out, however vaguely. I need a target to aim at, and I usually produce the first outline within 50 pages of setting out. (I was delighted some years back to find out it’s how Scottish novelist Val McDermid describes her process, too.)

For me the outline is more a means of verifying that the idea has the heft to be a novel. Once I have it, I will then reference the outline as needed, until it’s clear that I’ve parted company with it; and then I’ll recast it. Sort of like fly fishing. It’s fair to say that in any book project I’ll have written anywhere between one and five outlines before I’m done, mostly because notations of “and then this will happen” as imagined in advance transform when I actually sit down and write that sequence; often a multiplicity of heretofore unimagined options present themselves. In effect, by putting the words down I’ve brought things into focus in a way I couldn’t have before they were set down. (Samuel R. Delany has a wonderful essay on this topic in his collection, About Writing.)

There’s a quote from John Irving where he says that when he’s beginning a book, he can only work for a couple of hours because he only knows a couple of hours worth of the story. By the end of it, however, he can work for long stretches: choices have been made, options jettisoned, and he’s charging at an ending that’s become palpable. By comparison, I can think of short stories, even novelettes, that I’ve drafted in a single sitting. Might be a very long day, but when I totter away from the desk, there’s the whole shape of a story there. (Mind you, that does not by any means suggest that it’s close to done. Just that a complete narrative with a beginning, middle, and end have swirled into existence.) No one should make the mistake of thinking that just because they got to the end of the draft, their story is finished.

Tamago: Can you describe the use of notebooks (writing by hand) in your writing process?

Greg: Way back in high school I took a summer class in touch-typing. (This was before computers or even dedicated word processors abounded.) I learned to type about 90 words per minute accurately…which it seems is faster than I can think. If you are one of those who believe writing fiction is some sort of “automatic writing”—you’re merely a conduit and all that jazz—well, perhaps that presents no impediment for you. Major problem for me.
I was just spewing crap as fast as my fingers could go without any chance to focus on the words, without hearing them, feeling them. I needed to stop doing that, to slow down, to turn things over in my head, to listen to the cadence, to be able to write it wrong, cross it out, write it again, cross it out, write it again, etc., each time perhaps getting closer to what I actually wanted the sentence or paragraph to say.

Eventually, I arrived at the University of Iowa, and met Joe Haldeman, who was enrolled in the MFA program. We both, at about the same time, developed an adoration for a pen called a Kohinoor Inkograph, which was a fountain-pen version of a Rapidograph technical pen. I bought one and began writing all my first drafts longhand. It slowed me down exactly as I needed; and over time this evolved into what Anne Lamott refers to in Bird by Bird as the “Shitty First Drafts” process. My friend of long standing, Judith Berman, coined the term “zero drafts” in talking about her own methodology, because they don’t even qualify as first drafts (as I described above). It’s a “circling the story” approach.

My affection for fountain pens continues (so does Joe’s), and by extension for notebooks. So right now I write with a Namiki Falcon (I HEART flexible nibs) in Levenger Circa notebooks, which allow me to build a separate notebook for each project. I’m not even going to get into inks or this answer will run for two more paragraphs.

Continue reading “The Writing Process and Gregory Frost”

Let’s Write the Jim Hines Way!

With apologies to Jim Hines. This is the title of the fake info commercial that we talked about at Icon in one of our goofier moments, but cooler heads prevailed early the next day.

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Let me explain what’s different about my writing now that I write from 10:00-11:15 each day at work, instead of cutting out for larger tracks of time. What I do is this: I grab my computer and I leave my office, which is a bit of a fishbowl, and also where students will interrupt me even if I hang up signs saying not to, where my phone will ring, and where everything is still going on. I go to the second floor of our library and I sit in a study carrel with the rest of the world closed off to me by study carrel walls. The second floor of our library has been chosen because it is a quite study zone, so students do not talk to each other. Rather than sitting in the comfy chairs by the window where I can look outside, or people can see me, I am hidden and I focus on the task at hand.

The Internet on the second floor of the library is crap. It sometimes works. It sometimes doesn’t work. That doesn’t matter. I am not allowed to turn on the Internet until the end of the writing session, when I save my modified document on Google Docs.

Please notice that I’ve set myself up with minimal distractions, with the intent to write as much as I can for an hour. The fifteen extra minutes are the travel to and from the office time.

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How is this working?

1. I get through about a scene a day. I start my day re-reading yesterday’s work, and making changes and sharpening it. Then I begin the next scene. The scenes are sharper, and I am more engaged in the story by writing every day.

2. I am enthused about doing the writing every day. The alternative is work, you see. 🙂 No, I love my job, but it is nice to use a different part of my brain in the middle of the day. It also helps me relax.

3. I feel like there is a great deal of forward movement.

4. Distraction does not keep me from writing, which it usually does in other settings.

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Right now I am drafting this novel like Steven Gould drafts his novels, which is new. But Elizabeth Bear once said something to the effect that the writing process is different for every book. This book I’ve had four outlines, but they both collapse and expand, and right now I’m lengthening Venice and intrigue because I’m sending one character right to hell at a climactic moment (do not pass go, do not collect $200), and you need to give a damn about both the sisters. I’m getting there. As my friend Chris said, I may in fact have found my characters and that’s why the change.

Overall, then, what you’ve heard about writing every day is true. And what you’ve heard about getting off the Internet is true. So, why don’t we do it? These are the ancient questions of the universe. BTW, you can see interviews from Jim, Steven and Bear in the Authors and their Writing Processes page of the site, so you can see what I mean by throwing those names around.