The Art of Fiction:
What’s Your M.O.?
by Lisa Lenard-Cook
Lisa Lenard-Cook is a regular columnist for Authorlink. She is an award-winning published author and writing instructor. This is another in the series, The Art of Fiction. Watch for her insights every month on Authorlink. Read more about Lisa.
Last night, my friend Barbara emailed that she was having a hard time getting back into the novel she’s writing with the changes she’s made to it. “But that’s my M.O.,” she said. “Once I’m into it again, it will get much faster.”
Here in Art of Fiction-land (that is, my desk), everything’s grist for the mill, especially when a deadline’s looming, but Barbara’s phrase, “That’s my M.O.,” was the cue I’d been waiting for.
"Beginner or long-timer, you’ve likely got an approach to how you write|
(and rewrite. "
How Does Your Garden Grow?
Beginner or long-timer, you’ve likely got an approach to how you write (and rewrite). I work in fits and starts, but once I get rolling, it’s best to get out of my way. In August, I wrote an entire novel between other commitments, and in September I revised that novel, ending with a weekend-long spree of twelve-hour days. Today I’ll reward myself by cleaning up my garden (if you’re not a gardener, this will make little sense; if you are, you’ll know exactly how much those neglected plots have been taunting me), and then tomorrow, I’ll get back to work.
There are three of us in our writers’ group now, and because we don’t each have something to share each month, we’ve spent some time over the past ten years discussing our various ways of working. Barbara isn’t the speed demon I am, but she often ends up finishing before me (think tortoise and hare). Barbara starts novels over from scratch even more often than I do, a process that results, ultimately, in works that rivet from start to finish.
Judy will go for months, or even years, without writing a word, but between her five horses, four dogs, plus cats, llamas, goats, donkeys, chickens, and turtles (I’ve likely left out a creature or two, but like any menagerie, Judy’s is constantly in flux), plus keeping the books for her husband’s family medical practice, she can’t always find the time. When she does start on something, though, she’ll go somewhere else¬her most recent haunt was a small coffee place up the hill¬and fill pages and pages of legal pad until she finishes a draft. Then she’ll work that draft, and rework it, based on what Barbara and I have to say and her own further thoughts about it, until it positively glows.
"Barbara, Judy, and I are just three writers, and yet our ways of working are as different as gardening here in New Mexico versus gardening in Barbara’s native North Carolina. . ." |
Barbara, Judy, and I are just three writers, and yet our ways of working are as different as gardening here in New Mexico versus gardening in Barbara’s native North Carolina, Judy’s old Olympia stomping grounds, or even my old sixteen acres up in southwest Colorado. You can try to grow peonies here, for example, but once that June heat hits, they’ll shrivel up like dried chiles. But try growing chiles anywhere but New Mexico and you’ll quickly learn their love of daytime heat, night-time cool-downs, and those all-important summer monsoon rains. I won’t push the analogy further. My point is that I could no more walk up the hill with a legal pad and scribble for hours than Judy could stay at her desk for twelve hours straight.
"One thing we do have in common, though, is our penchant for rewriting. Note that I said rewriting. . ." |
One thing we do have in common, though, is our penchant for rewriting. Note that I said rewriting, not revision. Rewriting, as you likely know, means starting over, starting from scratch, revisiting your material with a fresh eye, new slant, different point of view, or even a relocation in place or time. Rewriting is the most important aspect of our M.O.s. It’s what separates us from writers just starting out¬not just our willingness to revisit what we’ve written, but the understanding that it’s as necessary to good writing as sunshine and water are to a garden no matter where it grows.
". . .your writing M.O. should include strong fiction’s most important asset: patience. . ." |
Whether you put your drafts in a closet and walk away from them for a while, as I do; dig right back in after getting feedback, as Barbara does; or work hard and fast whenever you can squeeze it in, as Judy must; your writing M.O. should include strong fiction’s most important asset: patience. Just as trying to rush a plant to flower with too much water will cause it to droop and offering it too much sunlight will burn it to death, too much nurturing can kill the best-intentioned fiction.
So don’t push against your writing because So & So says he writes every day for six hours or Thus & Thus never stops until she’s finished. It’s your fiction, and your M.O. Be patient and nurture both. Your writing is worth it.
|Lisa Lenard-Cook’s first novel Dissonance was short-listed for the PEN Southwest Book Award, and her second novel Coyote Morning short-listed for the New Mexico Press Women’s Zia Award. Lisa is on the faculty of the Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference and Vermont College’s Lifelong Learning Program. Her book about fiction writing, The Mind of Your Story, (April 2008) can be purchased at amazon.com.|
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