Two Sides of a Writerly Conversation

One of my favorite things about Brave on the Page: Oregon Writers on Craft and the Creative Life has been introducing writers to each other.

Brave on the Page coverAround when we launched the book in October, I connected Gigi Little and Sarah Cypher, two powerful authors who have shaped my own writing in countless ways. Sarah was interviewed in the book, and Gigi contributed a flash essay. Over the course of several months, Gigi and Sarah immersed themselves in an ongoing conversation about the craft of writing. This week, they each posted their sides of that fruitful discussion.

These companion pieces are fascinating, in part, because both writers approach their writing so differently. That’s the primary theme of Gigi’s side of the conversation, “Being Brave on the Page with Sarah Cypher.”

Gigi wings it with “with the best of my writing often coming from something quirky that pops off the top of my head.” Sarah plans carefully. “I do a lot of planning at the outset, but it is helpful only so far – usually as a trail of breadcrumbs to follow if I lose my way. It’s also a way of helping knit research together.”

Sarah’s response to the conversation covers similar territory, focusing on the intersection of planning and being brave enough to trust one’s instinct. You can read Brave on the Page: A Conversation About Creative Courage with Gigi Little” at Sarah’s blog.

Please go read those two companion pieces. They’re amazing individually, but together, they speak to a larger truth about being a writer. We all face the same challenges, but in different ways, and talking about our methods often opens up a new way of thinking or gives us a creative jolt.

(Are you back here now? Good.)

Sarah Cypher has taught me how to approach novel writing from a more structured, intellectual point of view, versus my earlier attempts of bleeding prose all over the page. She has been a crucial early reader of my last two novels and her wise editor’s voice is one I come back to regularly, reading and rereading her comments, during major revisions. Sarah has also set an incredibly high bar in terms of doing research for a novel, and her courage in doing that kind of work in order to set a fictional story down helped me find the courage to write historical fiction.

Sarah is a full-time freelance editor, with her own business and a careful, thoughtful way of shaping others’ stories. Her business is The Threepenny Editor, so check that out for an idea of what she does and a look through her archive of original articles on writing and structure.

forest avenue press logoGigi Little has inspired me with her ability to work on novels, stories, a memoir, essays, children’s books and even career oriented e-books while maintaining her own strong, particular voice that’s very funny, while also being honest and unafraid. She’s in high demand as a reader at events around the Portland metro area. She’s also the designer of the Brave on the Page cover, the Forest Avenue Press logo and our new Seven Questions author interview series logo.

As a side note, as a Powell’s staff member, Gigi chose Brave on the Page as one of her year-end Top Five staff picks. Check the Powell’s website to read Gigi’s lovely recommendation, learn more about our Jan. 7 reading or buy the book online. Gigi, incidentally, will be reading her essay “Mentor” from Brave on the Page on Jan. 7.

Thank you so much to Sarah and Gigi for putting together this conversation. I rarely print out blog posts, but I’m going to take these two essays, hit print, study them and then keep them side by side for when I need to be inspired by a dose of creative courage. No matter how we approach our stories, it takes a lot of courage to approach the blank page and let ideas and raw emotions flow through our waiting fingers, unsure of what the result will be, and yet we try and try again, day after day, week after week, and when one thing doesn’t work, maybe the next one will.

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
This entry was posted in Books, Community, Plot, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Two Sides of a Writerly Conversation

  1. annewoodman says:

    Laura, These two takes on writing have many essential truths. It’s always helpful to read about how other people write… while we all have different ways of approaching our writing, we are all trying to access that deeper truth…. and trying… and trying… ; )

    • So true, Anne! I love that all writers find common ground around the page, no matter what their genre or method, and how in talking about the creative process, we enrich each other’s work. That’s one of the reasons I’m so vocal about the importance of community!

  2. Thanks for sharing this. Typically, their approaches are very different, but I found that neither was the same as mine. For all the attempts to divide everybody into two categories (pantsers and plotters, for example), there are many different ways to get there.

    • Good point, Anthony. Sarah and Gigi approach the page from different perspectives, and it’s so fun to listen to them ask each other about their choices. But there are also a lot of people who fall in between starting with structure and pantsing.

      • True, but pantsing/plotting is only one aspect to it. For example, Gigi said (about Sarah), “She excels at speculative fiction; I like to stick close to my own life for inspiration. She puts lots of planning into a project before she starts writing; I… don’t…” So, in one way I’m more like Sarah, and in the other I’m more like Gigi (I don’t plan, but my stuff is more based on genre structure — different genre, but the same basic idea — than on my own life). And there are a lot of other categories and preferences, too. That’s only two of them.

        • Very true. I know Sarah as a literary writer, first and foremost, although she’s definitely a speculative writer too. It’s like thinking of my historical work; even though it’s technically genre, I think of it as literary. On some level, no matter how much we make up, there’s a fundamental personal truth behind every story. Even if it’s a truth that doesn’t play out in the plot or characters in any way; there’s a reason we choose the stories we are telling. I’m still thinking about why my novel is what it is, and trying to deepen that connection between me as author and my characters, who on the surface have nothing in common with me. (And maybe that’s why they were too flat in the first draft.)

  3. jmmcdowell says:

    And wouldn’t life be boring if we all approached everything in the same way? It might take us some trial and effort to learn what works best for us, but if writing is something we’re compelled to do, we will find it!

    • So true, jm. Here’s to diversity, here’s to different points of view, in terms of authors and our characters, here’s to life being lived on the page after it’s filtered through our imaginations in whatever way works for us.

  4. 4amWriter says:

    I love seeing how two different approaches can both lead to success on the page. It gives the rest of us the courage and confidence to find our own unique style that works, and to stick with it. Even if it is different from everyone else.

    • Half the battle for many people–in terms of transitioning from wanting to write to actually writing seriously–is finding what method works best for them. And I agree that conversations like this, about differences in approaching the page, give the rest of us courage to experiment and find our own paths. It’s sort of like finding one’s voice, isn’t it? It takes a lot of time, experimenting and then judging the results.

      • One of my (many) pet peeves is the amount of authoritative advice out there that’s either based on one person’s experience but isn’t generally applicable, or is just completely false.

        The Web can be a great resource for young writers, but certain aspects of finding your own path may actually have been easier before.

  5. Wonderful post!
    And the title, BRAVE ON THE PAGE, is great. It should also be a bumper sticker for writers!

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