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Prose Drills for Anje - Interview with Anje Goodwin


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An Interview With Anje Goodwin

Michael Neff, director of the New York Pitch Conference, talks to aspiring author, Anje Goodwin, about her leaps in narrative evolution and prose style after working with the NAPE Drills (pronounced "nap").

att.jpg - A Sample of Anje's Latest Work

Q:  Angie, you are one of the AWC alums; we reconnected in January about some systemic issues found in a sample of your prose submitted to the forum. We discussed that a prose drill exercise could help with the problems you were facing; can you tell us a little about your expectations? And what difficulties you might have faced during the exercise.

A: I’ll start by saying that you warned me that the prose drills wouldn’t be easy, and I think going in I half-hoped you were joking. The first day was admittedly the roughest, the work I knew I had to do felt daunting, and I would say that’s really where the difficulty of the exercise lay. A lot of it was just forcing myself to keep at it, which took a lot of patience on my part; I’ve always been the go-go-go type, and patience, even with myself, was never really something I excelled at, but the prose drills sort of demand it.

I have a few projects in the works currently and at the time, knowing that I had to put them on hold to work on the prose drills felt a lot like punishment. I just wanted to finish my projects NOW, and that is where the difficulty of the prose drills came in. It’s not a forgiving exercise if you’re not willing to give it the time it needs; it meant/means putting my current projects aside, working on something unpleasant repeatedly, allotting a specific time for it, and sticking to it for a month maybe longer. It’s a difficult thing to do, and that’s where being patient with myself really came in.

After the first week of being patient with myself and trying to find the right combination of word jumbles that felt right or felt like “me” the difficulty just sort of melted away, and it was just repetition from there.

 

Q: It sounds like you had a bit of a rocky start, but would you say the prose drills were overall helpful to you?

A: Oh, Absolutely! I worked on the prose drills in an old notebook that had the workings of another project sprawled in the first quadrant, occasionally when I would take a break from the exercise and read fragments of that project to myself and I would notice those systemic issues you mentioned in our call; I would make mental notes of where I would put a comma or how I would restructure specific sentences. I think looking at those old pages now, like you, I wouldn’t be able to tell you exactly what was wrong, just that the problems were systemic.

 

Q: Did you find that they made any significant change in your writing? If so, can you tell us some of the changes you’ve noticed in the tone of your writing?

A: Actually, I did; I knew my writing was going to change, the changes were the whole point of the exercise, but I was completely unprepared for just how apparent and drastic those changes were going to be. Before the drills I would say that the tone of my writing was equal parts whimsy and monotony; while I loved concepts and events in my project looking at them now, I can see that they lacked energy. After rewriting the first quarter of my manuscript, I can say that the tone is completely different; the monotonous film that washed over everything is gone, there’s a seriousness, and an urgency weaved into the tone that wasn’t there originally; chapters feel shorter and punchy, and reading things back feels less like something I must slog through, and more like something polished.

The changes are stark, but my work is better for it.

 

Q:  How have you dealt with those changes?

A: I like to think I’ve accepted them; at the time of starting the prose drills, I was going through the process of rewriting my manuscript to make it query-ready, but working on the exercises meant that I had to stop. When I came back to my manuscript, the tone of my writing was very different, so I took all the work I had already done and essentially scrapped it and started on another rewrite so that the whole of the manuscript would be written in the new tone. It was admittedly a bit of a headache, but there is, unfortunately, no easy way to “perfection.”

 

Q: By the way, you told me you were working on rewrites. Can you walk us through a little of your writing process?

A: Sure! There are quite a few steps to it, so bear with me; I came up with this process a few years ago to make something that would help me stick to a strict deadline, and so far, its helped.

I start things off with the obvious stuff, planning, figuring out my characters and their goals; Remeus wants to rescue her friend and family, Thaige is on a revenge mission, I chart out the details I already know are going to happen: Remeus receiving a fragment of the blade, the reveal of Morgul, and the capture of Thaige, act as anchor points, which allow me to map out the chapters between them. I say map things out because in a way, that’s what I’m doing; my anchor points are like destinations for my characters, and I have to figure out how they got there. Arguably, for me, this is the most important part; there's nothing that sets you back more than not knowing what happens next; it’s natural to get stuck on chapters: sometimes our characters and stories have a way of getting away from us in unexpected ways, and it helps to have a way to steer things back on track so to speak. And then, at last, the part where I actually write! I do my writing by hand, and I don’t edit.

Occasionally when I think have a new idea THAT ABSOLUTELY MUST GO IN, I jot it down on a post-it note, slip it into whichever part of the chapter it belongs to, and continue writing. I do this until the story is finished; I filled two and a half moleskins this way.

When the handwritten manuscript is finished, I begin typing it up, adding in my post-it note alterations; I must stress that I personally use a retro word processor with minimal editing capacity; I think it’s crucial to use a device or computer program that won’t allow you to edit. As writers it becomes all too easy to fall victim to over-polishing fragments of our stories before they’re complete, working and re-working certain parts until we’re left with a project that resembles Frankenstein’s monster more than it does a legible story.

When everything’s all typed out, I do a basic line edit, cleaning up typos and inconsistencies before printing out the whole manuscript; I separate everything by chapter, which makes the workload seem less daunting, and from here the process seems to start all over again, chapters are rewritten by hand, typed out, and combed through once more.

Lastly, the final part, I like to use the text to speech option available in Microsoft Word to tidy everything up and catch all those mistakes that are hard to notice when you’re only reading something. And that’s it! As I said before, my whole process is a little much, but it’s served me well so far.

 

Q: Considering the tenacity and effort needed for both this lengthy process of yours and the prose drills would you recommend them? What would be your advice to people looking to try either?

Honestly, I would, though I can’t say that my process would work for everyone; like with all things, people can and should take bits and pieces of my process and either add it to their own or change it in a way that better suits them, though it would make me over the moon if even one person started using this process for themselves. As for the prose drills, I would doubly advise anyone who, like me, thinks they’re done with rewrites to please give them a try when you think your book is finished, you’ve combed through your manuscript, and it feels ready to you, I would say, that’s the perfect time to set your story aside, and try the prose drills for a month. When you return to your work, it will be with fresh eyes and a changed writing style.

Trust me, your manuscript will thank you for it. 

_______

 

Michael Neff
Algonkian Producer
New York Pitch Director
Author, Development Exec, Editor

We are the makers of novels, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

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