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JCornelius
04-01-2017, 08:46 PM
I was reading this interview with former "brat pack" member Jay Mcinerney (https://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/6477/jay-mcinerney-the-art-of-fiction-no-231-jay-mcinerney), where he remembers how he was mentored simultaneously by Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff:


In Syracuse, for the first time in my life, I did write every day. There was the usual workshop situation, which I suppose may have been helpful, but what was certainly helpful was Carver going over my stuff page by page in his office. Likewise Tobias Wolff, the other fiction writer there at the time. I was lucky to get both of them. They had very different approaches. Carver tended to treat a short story like a living creature, whereas to Toby it was a mechanism that could be adjusted and tinkered with and taken apart and reassembled.
INTERVIEWER
Which approach did you find yourself drawn to?
MCINERNEY
I found them both useful. For many years, whenever I would reach for an overly pretentious word or phrase, I would hear Carver questioning it. He would say, Why did you use the word earth when what you really meant was dirt? Carver worked at that level, the level of the sentence. He was relent*lessly economical. He felt that if you couldn’t justify verbiage or descriptions, they had to go. There had to be a reason for everything that was in the story. Wolff taught me much more about construction, structure, pacing.


Interesting distinction.
Where would you say you fall as a writer--growing a living creature, or making machinery perform correctly?
Or, conversely, which of the two types of mentors are you most dire need of?

ElaineA
04-02-2017, 05:35 PM
I'm having trouble conceptualizing a writer who isn't both. Maybe it's a matter of a radio button on a sliding scale. I'm very much a messy, organic writer on first draft, but I strive to be a mechanic on every draft thereafter. I just don't see how you produce a readable work without both.

StoryofWoe
04-02-2017, 05:46 PM
I'm with Elaine in that I find both approaches useful at different stages. If I try and draft like a mechanic, my brain bottlenecks and the whole thing becomes an exercise in futility. If I were to send off a story without first cracking my knuckles and donning my tool belt during the revision process, every submission would be too long and unfocused and cluttered with nonsensical metaphors.

CathleenT
04-03-2017, 11:03 AM
My gut response is a simple yes. I'm not even as consistent as Elaine. Some short stories have been constructed--I was writing to a deadline, and I didn't have the leisure of waiting until inspiration struck. I know enough about story structure to create a competent tale. Sometimes inspiration would strike partway through, and sometimes not. Sometimes that didn't seem to matter, and other times it did.

For novels, I've always been more of the inspired first, perspiration second. I suppose that could change. I'm so invested in trying to fix the first eight novels I've written and learning how to promote that all I really have time for right now are shorts. Ugh. I keep telling myself that this is just a wicked learning curve I'm in, and I'll get efficient enough that I'll have time to write the half-dozen novels that are currently whining at me for existence, and I'll be able to do them more justice then.

As far as mentors go, I'd take anyone who wan't destructive. I'd desperately love someone who would take my work apart, and then tell me when it's ready to publish.

But those people don't seem to be very thick on the ground, other than in snippets on AW, which I do really appreciate. I've been telling myself that's okay. I can be an adult and figure this out for myself. I don't need a parent figure.

It doesn't stop the longing for a mentor, though, particularly when the self-doubt gets so palpable, I wonder if I'm somehow breathing it in.

M Louise
04-03-2017, 11:15 AM
That detachment of the mechanic standing back and re-assembling the machine to see if it works more smoothly or functions better when tweaked and adjusted is crucial at later stages and rewrites. That's where, for me, a cold-eyed beta reader, mentor or editor comes in to help the writer get enough detachment. At the gestation period, the wobbly first draft is a living creature and supportive encouragement means more.

DancingMaenid
04-03-2017, 04:38 PM
I agree with Elaine that both approaches can be helpful at different times. Also, I don't see it as always being one extreme or the other. If you look at it as a spectrum where some people think in terms of being inspired by a muse and some people treat each story like a product that has been assembled, most people are probably somewhere in the middle. For example, I don't take a super rational approach to creating characters. They pretty much just come to me and take hold in my mind. But I do feel capable of steering/tweaking their personalities and backstories if what I have isn't working.

JCornelius
04-03-2017, 08:06 PM
My story creation is more of a sandwich with both slices of bread being mechanical and the filling being organic. I first outline and sketch the scaffolding, then I let stuff grow on it, following the basic shapes, and then once its done growing I go all mechanical on its ass again...

Simpson17866
04-04-2017, 01:54 AM
I can't imagine having to finish an entire draft before being allowed to start dissecting it: I need to understand exactly what exactly it is that I'm going for at every step of the way, and deconstructing my old ideas mechanically is how I come up with my best new ideas organically.

I don't go back and forth between the mechanical and the organic parts of my brain. The mechanical part of my brain is the organic part.

(Though I have come up with a character who is a writer and who has to do this: use the organic part of her brain to come up with new ideas, switch to the mechanical part of her brain to sort through them, then go back to the organic part of her brain for writing by the seat of her pants, then back to her mechanical brain yet again for editing... She also takes this rather more literally than I imagine most of the people here do ;) )

BethS
04-04-2017, 08:47 AM
I can't imagine having to finish an entire draft before being allowed to start dissecting it: I need to understand exactly what exactly it is that I'm going for at every step of the way, and deconstructing my old ideas mechanically is how I come up with my best new ideas organically.

I don't go back and forth between the mechanical and the organic parts of my brain. The mechanical part of my brain is the organic part.



I'm the same way. For me, it's an integrated process.

Laer Carroll
04-07-2017, 12:13 AM
The terms organic and mechanic set up a false antagonism, to my mind.

I prefer to think of the artistic process as alternating waves of creativity and criticism, each of which works with the other to support the ultimate work of art. The first proposes, the second disposes. Creativity adds to an art work, criticism takes away the parts that don't work. These parts may be small, such as individual words, or large, such as entire scenes.

Each artist is unique in their combination of talents, skills, needs, desires, and situations - which may change from work to work. Each of us works a little differently. Some alternate creativity and criticism rapidly from moment to moment. Some of us do long stretches of one before doing the other.

And most of us do both short and long alternations. My word processor catches typos and some mis-grammar well, so I correct those problems quickly and almost automatically without losing my inspiration and train of thought. For plot problems I wait until an entire scene or more are done before I criticize and correct.

Melody
04-07-2017, 12:19 AM
I started out writing organically, but then my stories became overgrown and I needed to cut, cut, cut. I now come up with a plan or outline, then let it grow organically as I try to work out a particular scene where 'something specific' needs to happen. However, I am quick to toss something away if it feels forced and does not feel organic to the rest of the story. I suppose I will always need to learn from someone who has the 'mechanics' down, because that is where I tend to stray.

jpoelma13
04-07-2017, 12:45 AM
I'm not even sure if these analogies of a living creature and a machine are meaningful concepts. I wouldn't know how to classify myself as one or the other, or if I am some combination thereof. If this anything like the endless outliner/pantser debate it's probably rather pointless. Most of us have done both, there is a great continuum of styles between the two poles, and in the end it's probably just a matter of opinion.

StoryG27
04-07-2017, 12:57 AM
I like the way it was stated in the OP, the living and the machine. I think we all do both and are probably stronger in one than the other. It is mildly akin to a broad-strokes beta reader and a line-by-line edit.



I've been telling myself that's okay. I can be an adult and figure this out for myself. I don't need a parent figure.

It doesn't stop the longing for a mentor, though, particularly when the self-doubt gets so palpable, I wonder if I'm somehow breathing it in.
Omg, this, so much this!

Simpson17866
04-07-2017, 12:58 AM
I'm not even sure if these analogies of a living creature and a machine are meaningful concepts. I wouldn't know how to classify myself as one or the other, or if I am some combination thereof. If this anything like the endless outliner/pantser debate it's probably rather pointless. Most of us have done both, there is a great continuum of styles between the two poles, and in the end it's probably just a matter of opinion. To be fair, the distinction between the poles is useful, just not the ideas that it's all-or-nothing or that one is better than the other: I myself am about 85% planner, 15% pantser.

Organic/technical: I'd be almost exactly 50/50 ;)

Laurel
04-09-2017, 03:58 AM
It's a combination for me, too.

The initial idea usually comes to me in a pretty organic way. Then I develop the idea into a full plot, and this happens more mechanically. The actually writing tends to remain organic, though, and once I reach a certain point, everything starts connecting in a way that feels very organic.

I think the combination works well. Plots don't generally emerge fully formed like a gift from a muse, at least not for me. If I sat around waiting for this, I'd never get any writing done. I have to develop the plot in a more mechanical way. I also want the story to have passion, though, and to feel like real people are responding to actual events in a way that seems natural for them. Letting the details unfold organically is important to me.

I also fall somewhere in the middle of the plotter-pantser spectrum, though leaning more toward a plotter these days, if that matters here.

morngnstar
04-09-2017, 11:00 PM
How about a horse? It's a living creature. You can't simply make it do what you want, but neither can you let it do whatever it naturally tends to. It will just stand there and eat grass. A little technique is necessary to get it where you want it to go.

Sigma
04-19-2017, 12:10 AM
You want your work to make sense, to be consistently entertaining, and to convey whatever themes you're interested in ""mechanical" but at the same time, you want your prose to feel natural and to leave your storyline enough room to grow that extra "oomph" that makes it more than the sum of your parts.

I think for those of us who like to approach this methodically, the hardest part is learning when and where not to change things.

_lvbl
06-29-2017, 09:18 PM
I just need somebody to keep me in line sometimes. Structurally, my sentences all make sense, but sometimes the larger idea I am trying to transmit isn't as at the forefront as it needs to be. I need somebody to point that out.

AnthonyDavid11
07-14-2017, 08:07 AM
It depends on the day. Sometimes, I do look at the story as a living creature, full of life(and death of course). Other days, I'm much more mechanical, poking, prodding and reassembling. What I see here is that they both rewrite like crazy, which is the mark of a true artist. It is not enough to sound like somebody else or anybody else. The work must be totally you because the world doesn't know YOU. They know Wolf and Carver and Chandler and Dickens and Faulkner and Dostoevsky. But you? They don't know anything about you. You have to give them you. And every decent work is semi-autobiographical. With no truth to the lie, the lie becomes worthless and meaningless. In closing, I think they each represent two sides of a priceless coin and I take from it- rewrite, rewrite, rewrite...