I’ve figured out how to structure a story based on a common chord progression from a ’90s pop song. I’ve stolen a critical line of dialogue from a tampon commercial. It’s not that everything in life is inspiring—I personally find social media to be a wasteland—but it’s been surprising to see what seeps in and informs the work. For me, being open for business is about being deep in a project even when I haven’t opened the document for a week. It’s about noticing stuff, listening and synthesizing….
It’s taken years for me to realize what my book is even about, years to feel out the full story….When I go back and read old sections, I find things I have no memory of writing. Sometimes, present-me is impressed by past-me. Good job, I’ll think. This thread has been there all along! Other times I think past-me must have been drunk or asleep or that she’s messing with me on purpose. Goodbye, ten-page monologue on Tupperware, I’ll say. Goodbye, bitter side character based on a Subway sandwich artist I slept with in 2002.
Every once in a while I’ll get stuck, hung up on some fundamental, propulsive element of the story, like I’ve reached the end of the thread….As much as I hate it, the best thing I can do in this situation is pull the problem out of the computer and write it down. All the usual disadvantages of writing in longhand become advantages: It’s slow, it requires more mechanical effort, the words must come in order with no easy erasures.
Everybody knows how important the first track of a mix tape is, and I wanted to start my collection with my most affable narrator….All my stories deal with similar themes—game playing, escapism, desire—but I had strong ideas about how to move through the different voices of the remaining narrators (urban and rural, child and adult, male and female, queer and straight) in a way that felt balanced and varied to me.
The weirdest approaches to process are the ones I find most helpful—the ones that have stayed with me the longest. There was the professor who encouraged his classes to narrate problematic scenes from the perspective of inanimate objects….A friend of mine takes the articles out of any story or chapter that’s giving him problems….There was another professor who forbade us from using adverbs, or giving characters first names….