C.M. Mayo—author of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, recently out in paperback—has posted on Madame Mayo a wonderful compilation of writing wisdom. It’s actually a handout from her recent talk called “Staying Focused: Researching and Writing the Longer Book Project,” but this document encompasses so much more, including tips for making the most out of a visit to a historical archive and a list of useful office supplies to keep yourself organized (yes, my trusted index cards are included!).
Here’s a bit of good advice for the writing process:
“# 7. Mise-en-place
This is a French term chefs use that means, more or less, everything in its place. Briefly: start clean, then assemble utensils and equipment; then assemble all ingredients; then wash, cut, chop; then cook. Doing things out of order makes the whole process take longer, the product often come out mediocre (or ruined), and can cause needless stress for the cook and the diners.
“This explains why many of the most productive writers write in coffee shops and the rest of them do a lot of housecleaning, n'est-ce pas? It's not the easiest thing to write a novel when your desk is cluttered with phone bills and stacks of unanswered letters, the dog needs to be walked in five minutes, and, by the way, you've left the phone on and your facebook page tab open. There are people who can work amongst piles and general chaos, but I am not one of them, and I cannot recommend it.”
Read the whole piece here.
And Susann Cokal, author of the novels Mirabilis and Breath and Bones, offers some good advice about the art of working coincidence into your narrative:
“Second, there's the light of open acknowledgment. Some of the cleverest authors don't strain to hide the fact that there's an odd chord striking in the music of the spheres; they point out the crazy ways our lives are connected. Having a character remark on the unbelievability actually makes it more plausible, as when E. M. Forster explains (in A Room with a View) that it's both strange and natural for a group of genteel English people to cross paths first in Italy and then in an English village—it's because they all love Italian art. The acknowledgment of implausibility breaks that sense of too much order and lets chaotic "real" life creep back into the story, even if the coincidence is easily explained away.”
From an essay in the Glimmer Train newsletter; read the rest here.