Melissa Fraterrigo: How to live your most creative year yet
5th Jan 2018
One day, while visiting our local library the parking attendant, whom I hadn’t seen in weeks, told me he had been south, burying his sister and mother.
Suddenly I heard a line: “Gardner hears dogs scrambling up the trees after a squirrel or a neighbour’s cat, he tells himself, eager to be calmed.”
This became the first line in “Teensy’s Daughter” a chapter that appears three-fourths of the way through Glory Days, only once I finished it the characters remained with me and I needed to work backwards to figure out why Gardner is afraid of Teensy and why the ghost of Luann will not leave him alone.
This process of writing was completely unfamiliar to me and yet through it I discovered that there is more than one way to compose.
A writing approach should be as unique as you are and it should be flexible enough to adapt to the changes in your life. Once I realised this, my novel took off.
Throughout your day, you notice things. The sun shifting through a tree’s bare branches. A colleague’s voice reminding you of your Aunt Sandy. Jot these thoughts down. They are from your subconscious. Pay attention! You never know from where your next best idea will arrive. My novel began with a snippet of conversation.
Are you a morning person? Do you buzz with energy at night? Once you figure this out, structure your day so you can best honour your creativity.
My own work changed dramatically when I claimed the mornings for writing and cleared a space for this specific purpose. Now I wake a minimum of an hour before the rest of my family so that I may write uninterrupted.
I do this writing long-handed rather than on the keyboard. In the slow shift from sleep, unencumbered by my daughters’ needs or freelance deadlines, I do my best work.
It is much easier to sit down and write with a sense of purpose when you create an environment conducive to your needs. I work in our basement at a small desk with a lamp and hardback chair. Is there a place in your home that you can clear of distraction? You don’t need much space to work and some writers even empty closets for such a purpose.
Face your ghosts
I remember my dad telling me before I left for graduate school to work toward my MFA in creative writing that fiction didn’t matter. Despite the publications and awards and amazing books I have studied since then, sometimes I still hear my father’s words.
Women especially are haunted by voices—the wayward comment from a teacher or a “friend” who said that you did not have it in you to write. You can choose to accept these remarks or you can create your own destiny.
Try this: Get all your fears down on the left side of a note card. Now on the right, respond to each of these fears. Once you name your fears it is easier to break them down, see them for what they are, and write past them.
Let go of your expectations
It’s easy to begin a piece in the throes of energy. Yet somewhere between that initial idea and sitting down with it creeps in uncertainty. Who will read this? What if it is never published? Well, what if it isn’t?
If you enjoy the process of creation, the outcome of a piece is irrelevant. In my own situation, my loved one’s mortality and reminder of my own gave me the motivation to follow the inspiration that ultimately became Glory Days.
Indulge in first drafts
No one sits down to work confident and sure of herself or her project. If you really are going to give yourself permission to write—you need to let yourself write badly.
Let the pages accrue, and then go back and figure out where the work feels most electric. Which words thrum? What is taking place in that moment of the piece? Trust that everything on the page is a clue to some amazing puzzle that is up to you to solve.
There is no one means to write. Take into account your interests and idiosyncrasies and approach writing with this knowledge in mind. Ultimately you’ll end up with a process and product that is as powerful and unique as you are.
Melissa Fraterrigo is the author of the novel Glory Days (University of Nebraska Press) and the short story collection The Longest Pregnancy (Livingston Press). Her fiction and non-fiction have appeared in more than forty literary journals and anthologies from Shenandoah and The Massachusetts Review to storySouth, Notre Dame Review, and Prairie Schooner. She has been a finalist for awards from Glimmer Train on multiple occasions, twice nominated for Pushcart Awards, and was the winner of the Sam Adams/Zoetrope: All Story Short Fiction Contest. She is founder and executive director of the Lafayette Writers Studio, in Lafayette, IN, where she also teaches classes on the art and craft of writing.