Tag Archives: Writing Group

My Approach to Writing

I have been challenged by a writing group to write down a sort of writing philosophy. This felt like a rather daunting task, but it was productive to think about what I do, and maybe more importantly, what I am trying to do. Here is what I came up with.

My writing is typically about characters who feel great solitude, even (perhaps especially) while among others. My stories are about characters who want, and it’s from these wants that I derive my conflicts (a necessity in my stories). I feel like I’ve been heavily influenced by the wide physical expanses of New Hampshire and the wide emotional breaks in the Midwest. There is an inability to connect between characters, a miscommunication, an ongoing struggle to find meeting points.

I often throw magic in my stories to accentuate the conflict(s) in the story. Magic, for me, is heavily influenced by Garcia-Marquez’s short stories (duh), and often, they come at a place of emotional break for a character. As in, I write from a very traditional and realist approach, but when strain has hit its peak for a character, the surreal will often enter one of my stories, though not always.

I feel like my stories rarely have what some people call “a satisfying ending.” The bad guy usually doesn’t get it in the end, the guy almost never gets the girl, though if he does, watch out for strings attached. My characters grow, but it may feel small or disappointing or negative. Not all growth is positive, and my characters often feed on hope and fall prey to leaning on such hope.

I write in a plain style. As Orwell says, “Never use a long word where a short one will do,” and I try to abide by that. I’m not trying to impress people with my word craft but with my narratives, my conflicts, and most importantly, my characters. Yes, I do try to put things in ways that allow people to see the familiar in a new way, but my emphasis on language is purely functional to communicate as best as I can with the reader what I see in my head. I typically write in scene, and usually one story for me means one scene. I’m not wedded to this idea, in fact, I’d like to write longer pieces, but my impulse is to write about a singular event.

I try to layer my stories in meaning and symbols, but sometimes I can be clumsy with that (either being too on the nose or too subtle). My hope is to never let go of my plain-spoken and simplistic approach, yet pen stories with an extremely heavy emotional impact. That’s what I want: emotional impact. And what I mean by emotional impact is this: I want my reader to be impacted emotionally by the main character’s struggles, weaknesses, fears, loves, and hates, as well as the tone of the piece and the use of symbolic imagery, and I want that impact to start at the heart and work its way up to the brain, and I want, eventually, to change the way the reader thinks about some small aspect of the world they live in.

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A Grand Experiment

A little context. So, last year, I put out eleven MFA applications and one MA application. I was rejected by all of the MFA schools, and though I was accepted into the MA school, I did not receive funding. The other writers I work with sent out some apps as well, and the result was the same.

None of us were in a perfect position to send out our applications. We were rushing, struggling with some direction, desperate to get our letters of recommendation ready, and revising until our backspace keys were worn to the nub. We hope not to be in this position this year.

The plan. So, we came up with an idea. We decided to come up with very specific deadlines and schedules to keep to get our MFA apps ready to go with plenty of time before they are due. And how will we enforce this throughout the group, you ask? I’ll tell you.

Perhaps the most frightening aspect of this experiment is that we are all accountable and responsible for each other. Here is how: For every step of the process, at each deadline, unless all of us complete the task, none of us can move on. So, literally, if one person does not send out apps, neither do the rest of us.

This is a terrifying prospect.

Still, I think it’s necessary. I really need to be prepared for apps this year, and it’s important I get in somewhere. I’ll be applying to somewhere between twelve and thirty schools this year (Gee, that’s a lot), and I don’t know that I can take sitting out another year.

Hopefully, we all come through. Hopefully, we all put out our best work. That remains to be seen.

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