Colorado State University Center for Literary Publishing

Step Away from the Keyboard, Please: Thoughts on Process

Nov 13, 2013

by Karen Montgomery Moore, Colorado Review editorial assistant

The second week in November is a moment of limbo, a brief window in which time seems to slow, almost as a courtesy to the chilled air molecules, before the crazed days of deadlines and holidays. Conversely, it also a time when there is a flurry of writing and social media updates regarding word counts as part of National Novel Writing Month. While it is always exciting to have so many people engaged in the act of writing, I’d like to suggest there can be immense value in taking a step back and devoting time to think about writing as a process. Even though it may seem to be a contradiction to our get-things-done culture, we can’t dismiss the mental work often required before fingertips ever reach a keyboard. Other writers are clearly reflecting on this idea as well, as evidenced from these essays around the web:

 

Toni Jordan posts at The Millions, “Sparks to Make Flame: On the Ideas Behind Fiction,” about connections between movement, curiosity and creation:

“Perhaps somewhere inside me is a desire for order, a need to be the kind of person who has everything squared away and ship shape. I have no other explanation. And I like it that way.”

 

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Our own editor, Stephanie G’Schwind, recently wrote a post for Essay Daily on transforming a personal experience into a successful essay that becomes universally relatable:

“So how did these experiences become essays? Generally, the writers took on parallel narratives. I tend to think of these narrative lines as the story on the ground and the story in the sky. Sometimes the story in the sky is closely related to the story on the ground, other times it may seem unrelated, almost random.”

 

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CSU Creative Writing faculty member Todd Mitchell wrote a blog post “On Desire” and how essential it is that characters motivated to attain that which they do not yet have:

Characters must want something in order to be interesting. And the stronger the character’s desire becomes, the more intriguing the character often becomes.”

 

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Carmen Giménez Smith suggests approaches for looking at your poetry with fresh eyes. As the featured blogger at Harriet (the Poetry Foundation’s blog) this month, her posts so far have ranged from this entry of editing ideas to mixtapes. Although her thoughts are focused on practical, concrete solutions, they are grounded in the detail-oriented part of process:

“Over the years, after reading a lot of poetry and writing a lot of poetry (good, bad, meh), I’ve found that a practical, even cosmetic entry into a poem can often be quite generative.”

 

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The Atlantic feature “By Heart” spotlights authors discussing literary passages that have stayed with them. Last month Andre Dubus III made a strong case for ditching outlines and allowing imagination to take over:

“I’ve learned over the years to free-fall into what’s happening. What happens then is, you start writing something you don’t even really want to write about. Things start to happen under your pencil that you don’t want to happen, or don’t understand. But that’s when the work starts to have a beating heart.”

 

Whatever the speed or focus of our writing may be, it’s worth spending an hour over a hot beverage while reading about how we can approach our work with renewed energy. Perhaps the extra few minutes staring out the window will allow the words to flow more organically, and the word counts will take care of themselves.

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