Method Writing

Last night I read a manuscript – not even a client’s, mind you – that made me cry. Well OK, technically I just teared up a little, but still! It was so true to life that I ended up empathizing with the character as if she were a real life friend. Or, more accurately, a real life “me.” It actually inspired me to return to my nonfiction roots and expand an old personal essay.

This made me wonder if the author had experienced her character’s ordeal as well. How many of you fiction writers become your characters by infusing real life emotions in your work? Are you a Marlon Brando and Daniel Day Lewis when you write? Or are you Cary Grant and Tom Hanks?

Personally, I think I’m a Cary Grant, or a “non-method” writer. (Note: I am in love with Cary Grant, but this is not why I chose him as my writing-equivalent.) Cary and Tom are both great actors (or, were, in Cary’s case); they say their lines, become a character when they need to get the job done, and go home at the end of the day as if they spent it in a cubicle. (Presumably.. obviously I have no idea how they’d go home at the end of the day after a shoot.) This is my approach to writing – to writing fiction, at least. It’s something I’m enjoying at the moment, but personal essays are, at least I’d like to think, what define me as a writer.

Method actors put their entire beings into a character, and in turn, the character fuses into them. There’s obviously great value in this type of writing too. Some might argue there’s more value. Both approaches work in acting, usually with the same results depending on how good you are (I mean, look at Tom Hanks). So, I wonder… is the same true for writing?

What are your approaches to writing fictional emotions? Do you think it matters whether an author experienced them in real life?

Methods to the Madness

Every writer has a different approach to writing, a different method. My writing process, for example, has to involve a pen and paper (at least at first), and a very fragmented style. Meaning, if I get a scene in my head, or even just a line I think sounds good, I write it down. It is never, ever the opening paragraph. Then I’ll get an idea for a different scene, and write that, but it is rarely the scene that directly follows what I just wrote. Eventually they all come together.

There are also linear writers who can’t move on until the opening scene is secure. That, to me, would take forever. I’d be staring at a blank sheet of paper for hours if I was forced to think of beginning before I could continue. But they would probably think my process takes forever, and then we’d both disagree with someone else’s third approach.

Other choices writers are faced with when deciding which method works best for them are usually along the lines of “paper or computer?” “inside or outside?” or “gin or coffee?” But, the process that most fascinates me about writing is revision. You cannot be a writer and not revise. And then revise again. Something unavoidable, like the actual writing of words themselves, often means that it involves an entirely different approach.

I love revising more than I love writing a first draft. I don’t usually finish a first draft before I begin revising what I already wrote. But of course, there are those who loathe the revision process with a passion that rivals our collective disdain of whoever slighted Sandra Bullock this week. What are your methods and opinions on revising? I have a feeling you’re all going to say something different.

Lastly, something else that I’ve been wondering lately, as I ask for revisions, is what do writers prefer to hear from agents or editors? Would “complete re-write” would induce vomiting? Is it better to hear “add more” rather than “delete?” Things to ponder…

Enjoy the hot weekend everyone!