I was invited by the spectacular author/professor Goldie Goldbloom to participate in the "My Writing Process blog tour." You can read Goldie's entry here. Since I'm finishing my MFA thesis and completely reworking how I think about my writing, my processes have done a 180 in the past few months.
1) What am I working on?
I’m in the last throes of completing my thesis for my MFA program at Northwestern University. After four years in the program, I’m ready to be done! It’s 150 pages--about 70 pages are short stories with an urban-decay setting and a magical-realism fairy-tale bent. The other 80 pages are an excerpt from my novel about a young woman who’s grown up at a radical flower farm commune founded by her parents.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
My work takes place in an urban, post-industrial setting but has this fairy-tale backdrop. I’ve been told that the combination of those two things is unusual, I think because most people don’t think of such a bleak setting providing a backdrop for magical elements. But I see the nature and potential for things like curses and spells to take place amidst factories and mills.
3) Why do I write what I do?
The industrial landscape in this current work comes from my childhood in industrial Indiana, on the Chicago border. And I was a huge reader as a kid, devouring Grimm, folk tales, fables, and Biblical stories, so the writing that comes most naturally to me is basically an outgrowth of that.
4) How does your writing process work?
I’ve learned a lot about “how I work,” in the past four years of grad school. I’ve gotten better about procrastination, which used to be a big problem, by doing Julia Cameron’s “morning pages” from The Artist’s Way. Doing the morning pages seems to clear out my mental clutter and get me ready to write the real stuff. I try to write daily, on the commute to my day job and it’s MUCH easier to get back into the work when I *am* writing daily.
I’ve also recently discovered Robert Olen Butler’s From Where You Dream, and the “dreamstorming” process detailed in that book has been helping me a lot lately. It’s best for bigger projects, like novels, and is a way to both inhabit the “dream space” of a novel, while also making big decisions that help move the story forward. (It seems I’m not the only one who gets paralyzed when it comes to making major decisions that affect the whole storyline...but if you don’t make those decisions, you wind up with competing or contradictory threads.) Dreamstorming is a great way to address this: It helps you tap into the subconscious and figure out what the story is “about” but also rein things in enough so that the amount of rewriting you have to do is minimized. I'm just sad I didn't discover it sooner.
Mark Rader's first published story was about a spunky one-armed cave boy named Little Runner who saves his clan from a bear attack. It was in a kid's magazine when he was a kid. Now a grown man, Mark's stories have appeared in Glimmer Train, Epoch, LIT, and The Southern Review, and been short-listed for a Pushcart Prize, O. Henry Award, and inclusion in the Best American Non-Required Reading anthology. He holds an MFA from Cornell University and currently teaches creative writing part-time at the University of Chicago's Graham School. He has a number of long-in-the-making manuscripts nearly completed, he's pretty sure. Look for his post at: http://www.markrader.com/
Dana Norris is the founder of Story Club, a monthly storytelling show in Chicago, Boston, and Minneapolis. She teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. She has been published in McSweeney's Internet Tendency, The Rumpus, the Tampa Review, and her stories have been featured on Chicago Public Radio. You may see her upcoming performance schedule at dananorris.net, and she'll publish her post on her Facebook page.