Spain Remembers

Spain Remembers

Monday, August 30, 2010

Miriam Toews Says...

Miriam Toews' workshop was titled Advanced Fiction. Here are my notes from an excellent and informative session.
1) "A novel is a messy form.  There is rhythm.  There is pacing but there are no rules.  A good novel is  life affirming but each writer creates in her/his own way."  She has never written a short story (although she has done some short non-fiction) -too constricting.

2) She starts off with a query, a question in her mind.  "I think and think before I write. Often I do not know the answer to my query until the end." She obsesses  over the questions she is asking herself.

3) She dreams herself into her characters.  She knows all about them before she starts.  "I am my characters."  The characters  haunt her dreams and she tries to learn from her dreams.

4) Everything in the novel comes from her own experience. 'I have no imagination." It is all biographical. "Conceiving the novel is the best part of the process. Everything is possible.  But once you start, you are presented with your own limitations, your inability to get the scene on the page."

5) Before starting, she takes pages and pages of notes.  As she is writing she makes note after note.  She keeps these notes - written in capital letters - at the end of the document.  "There are pages and pages of notes in capitals". She goes over them and often, in them, sees new patterns or new ideas. Then when she is absolutely finished, she erases them.  She keeps notebooks and every couple of weeks types the notes into the note section of the document.

6) The worst part of the process is dealing with the changes required by an editor.  Her first editor at Turnstone Press in Winnipeg strangled her manuscript with red pencil. She felt she had been kicked in the gut.  As a newbie, she felt she could not fight back but now, as an established writer, she will refuse changes.  She says she has an excellent relationship with her present editor.

7) The structure of a novel is important. "I obsess about structure, pacing. I want those solid underpinnings, the framework", so that she cam get the novel to flow around them.

8)  "I don't write for money.  I don't write for fame.  I take my own life and chop it up.  I try to write intensely and quickly. Everything I hear or see is potential material. It is a wonderful feeling to create.  Writing keeps me alive. it puts 'me'on the page.  it is a necessity for me."

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