On Telling Lies (Guerrilla Writing)

May 3, 2012

If my students were to watch me write, they would think I was one big hypocrite. If they could get into my head, they would think I was an even bigger hypocrite. I preach the importance of revision. Go over it and over it and over it, I say. Then, stick it in a drawer for a while, take it out, read it, and go over it some more. Do not decide where your story is going before you write it, I also say. Start with something simple – an image or an action – and let it flow naturally from there.

Sometimes I do these things. More often, I don’t.

Here is what I actually do (or, at least, what it looks like I do): I sit at my computer when I can find a spare minute or ten and I type up a paragraph or a page. Sometimes, through the miracle of sleeping children or playdates at the zoo, I find myself with a decent stretch and I may write an entire story. And then I might not do much of anything to it.

Oh sure, I go back and fix my language. Make it tonally consistent. Tweak some metaphors. It technically classifies as revision, I guess, but I rarely ever do what you hear so many other writers brag about. I don’t delete half of what I write. In a good story, I might not mess with ten percent of it.

But I used to.

Oh, I’ve never been a big deleter, but I’d go over and over and over stuff. I can’t do that now. If I did that now, I’d never get anything done. If you were to listen to what I say in class, you would think this means that everything I write stinks. But I don’t think it does. Cate is a trustworthy reader and she tells me when I write a bad story and when a story needs a lot of work (and sometimes they do, don’t get me wrong), but she also tells me when something is good pretty much as is.

That happens because I try to be ready to write all the time. I once read about this same concept in and interview Paul Harding gave after he won the Pulitzer for Tinkers. He talked about how, once he had a kid, he found himself writing in spare moments and cobbling things together as he could. He called it guerrilla writing. This is not my ideal process, but it’s the process I have. I am always writing. I am preparing a story in my head with every spare moment. Often this means I sit down to write knowing exactly where things are going.

But getting that stuff out, the stuff I consider art, the stuff I would like to be judged by, is only part of guerrilla writing. because we live in the Twenty First Century! The future is now and it is on the internet!

I read a little article by Anna Quindlen recently where she talked about her writing process, and I wish I could be her. She believes that writers only have so many words and should refrain from things like blogs and email whenever possible. She writes every day from 9 to 3.

Of course, she is Anna Quindlen. Her job is to write. She doesn’t have to find an agent. She doesn’t hear from agents about how they really look for an online presence from an aspiring writer because they want a built-in audience.

I’m trying, lately, to wear my big-boy writing pants. That means I’m sending stuff out whenever I can in the hopes that someone will publish Lonely Human Atoms (which I believe in more than any creative thing I’ve ever done) or perhaps some magazines will publish a few stories and this will help me get the book published. It is an unpleasant process.

That is part of guerrilla writing, though. As is my presence all over the freaking internet. I write for four different websites. Sure, I like writing about the things I write about, but a lot of that is about exposure. The more exposure I can get, the more likely an agent or publisher is to say, “Hey, this guy might be able to sell a few hundred copies of a book.”

At least, that is the hope.

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