The Mark Blog

Know What's In The Well

Workshop began this week. I got tons of great feedback, and in the next two weeks I'll do a major rewrite of the story we workshopped. I also have an assignment from Antoine: I need to identify my central character's presence, both thematically and physically, in each of my stories.

Between writing, family life, and my full-time job, I’m feeling the pull of time. I realize this is a “happy problem.” I have the opportunity to do something I love and to receive excellent feedback from an expert. The Mark program is all I'd hoped for and more.

I spoke to my friend Robert this week. He’s in a PhD program and also works full time. I asked him how he manages to get everything done, and done so well. We talked about this dilemma for awhile, but it all boiled down to this: plan your time, allocate enough hours for each task, and don’t worry about it after that. Everything will get done. Knowing this to be true, I left the conversation with a smile.

Later I thought about how structure is key not only in life, but in writing. Whenever there is a lot going on—in the course of a day or in the pages of a book—being accountable to some kind of schedule or outline can bring relief. When the unknowns are revealed, real problem solving can begin.

When I was an Emerging Voices fellow, there was a point in my process when the work seemed jumbled up and unfocused. My EV mentor, the amazing Deanne Stillman, instructed me to take a week and compile an outline of the manuscript. Though I was skeptical, I didn't have a better solution. A week passed, an outline appeared, and suddenly things became much clearer. The disconnects in narrative became obvious, and with new insight I planned the next steps. Outlining is now something I fall back on when trying to sort things out.

Recently I asked Deanne about her take on organization. This is what she said: “You know, when I’m finished writing something, especially a big project like a book, I generally don’t remember the act of writing it. So much of writing unfolds on an intuitive level that you've got to stay organized and know what’s in the well so you can attach everything else to it.”

So Antoine's assignment was the perfect task to pose to me. Examining the work story by story exposed gaps and weaknesses, but also revealed opportunities. And once again I was able to plan next steps.