Sunday, February 19, 2006


I am struggling with understanding the lecture in my online writing class. Judging by the class discussion and the chat this week, other students are as well. The instructor is really good; her lectures are thought-provoking, smart, filled with examples of her own process. She wasn't heard from for a bit and then came bounding back with an apology, that she'd had unexpected surgery, and then proceeded to pour out an incredible amount of feedback to the stories being workshopped that week. The other instructors I've had might give you a few paragraphs, maybe a page. She gave each about 8-10 pages, although not all about the story itself, as she used each as a springboard to dive into another lecture on a related topic. I've never printed out the notes from someone else's critique before, but that's how relevant her comments were.

But now she seems to be gone again. The last lecture she posted is really interesting, and the students are busily trying to adapt it to their own writing. She talks about "fast-drafting," about internalizing the form and structure of the short story and then just sitting down and telling the story. Writing a draft in one sitting, churning out two over a weekend. Not agonizing, tinkering, obsessing over words and lines and paragraphs. Rather than this resulting in boring and predictable writing she says you give yourself the freedom to "surprise yourself" at the sentence level, which I think means to not take the story in a wild direction, but the individual sentences that are keeping you on course. This last bit is a source of confusion for many of us. My own uncertainty lies in process of internalizing the form in the first place - how do you do that? I think that's my weakness. I can write beautiful passages but my stories meander, start and end, without a firm sense of story.

So I'm stuck with the chicken/egg question. Does fast-drafting force you to internalize the form out of sheer practice and repetition? Great. But how do you get that structure inside you in order to internalize it?

I tried fast-drafting a scene yesterday for class homework, and we'll see how it's received. I would like to be able to spend an entire day pounding out a story draft, but I'm not sure I have the focus (I could find the time, I am sure.) That might be the real message behind her lecture - if you don't have the focus to sit and write one story for an entire day, you might not have the focus to really become a writer.


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