blackbirdonline journalSpring 2010  Vol. 9  No. 1
print icon


On Process—Writing a Short Story

Like many writers, first off I try to get everything out onto the page. No editor perched on the shoulder. This is what I tell my students, and at times, I have to remind myself not to be a hypocrite—no editor on the shoulder! When it’s all down, I take a lot of time looking for the design within the bulky, messy pages. I rewrite more carefully now—but I’m still not looking up to see what the whole piece looks like. I’m focused on the road, mile by mile—my eyes on the paragraph in front of me. I don’t turn on my email or answer the phone. I write through the urge to leave the room to get a coffee. As much as possible, I don’t let anything distract me. I get this unwieldy and more tedious draft of writing-within-the-writing down.

Then I leave it for a few days.

When I come back to it, I find somewhere different, a coffee house, to read it. I like to pick up the pages I’ve printed as if I’ve just found them lying on the table like an old newspaper, and I read the whole thing in one go. I let myself think of the story sort of sideways as I read. What gets my attention? What goes on and on for no apparent reason? Does anything sing?

Back at home, I go to it again. Mostly, I follow the excellent advice on revision that I learned some years ago now from writer and teacher, Janet Burroway. I examine the work from a wide-angle perspective—the establishing shot. I zoom in to a medium shot and puzzle over the scenes and how they add up—or don’t. Then, I get down to the close-up and work at the word-by-word level. Finally, I read it out loud to catch enduring clunking noises and odd silences.

These are the things that help get me through. Then I give the story to a reader and run, savoring the very few moments that I can do absolutely nothing to the manuscript—until that reader gives it back.  end