Day 33/Ervin on New Projects, Microwaves

How do you feel when you start a new project? When are you afraid? How does it feel different from being in the midst of a project, and at the end of a finished project?

Starting a new project is the most liberating sensation in the world. Now, I’m an absolute maniac for revision. Revision and rewriting rewriting rewriting rewriting rewriting is where I feel my fiction becoming what it is meant to be. I rarely know what I’m writing until I’ve written it, then I need to spend time—years, in many cases, on a single story—getting the tone, order of exposition, motivations, and all of those craft-y things to play together, or not. That way of working is exhausting and I have made the mistake too many times of sending work out to agents and editors before it was ready. However, that way of writing can alleviate a lot of pressure from my early drafting.

I don’t own a microwave.

At the start of a new project, I read all kinds of strange things. Eliade’s book on shamanism was vitally important to Extraordinary Renditions, and I always read sections of the unabridged Golden Bough before beginning even the shortest story. Starting a new project frees me to read whatever I damn well please, and I love that. I recently wrote a 600-word story inspired by a Zoe Strauss photo, the Poetic Edda, and a conversation with Brian Evanson. (“Everything is Name Brand”, over at Matter Press.) Early on, I write with absolute and total abandon knowing that I’m going to rewrite the shit out of it anyway. For months, years. And Ilove the safety net of working with editors. Every single thing I’ve published has benefited from great ideas by the smart, professional people around me.

 Early on, I write with absolute and total abandon knowing that I’m going to rewrite the shit out of it anyway.

The fear you’ve mentioned only comes in later when I have to think about a possible public life for something I’ve written. I might be approaching that stage with the novel I’m writing now, which I’m calling Burning Down George Orwell’s House. I thought it was finished two years ago and was stupid enough to send it out. Big mistake. At the moment, I’m working on what I believe are some final tonal fixes. Basically, my main character has gone (at the suggestion of Owen King) from a former college professor to a former advertising executive, and that change opened up a world of new possibilities for the story, but it also required a change in the very tone of the book from farce/satire to something a little bit more serious. It’s about a man whose bad decisions follow him across an ocean. I hope I’m nearing the finish line now because the protagonista of what could be another novel, set here in Philly, is insinuating herself into my notebooks and I’ve started to accumulate a shelf of books meant to inform that new project.


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