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Arthur Plotnik chats about the writing process

Day 2 in Down the Writer’s Path’s series with Arthur Plotnik. This segment is part of an interview with Arthur Plotnik, author of the newly released, Spunk & Bite: A Writer’s Guide to Punchier, More Engaging Language & Style by Briget Ganske, Spring 2006 and posted with their permission.

Describe your writing process. Do you write everyday? Do you plan or plot things out?

I wish I could say I write naked from midnight to dawn, supine in a bathtub filled with nasturtiums or newts or something—but no such exotica here. Otherwise, is anyone interested?

Well, if so: I am dully disciplined, up early most days and at the keyboard from 8:30 to six, with breaks for websurfing, lunch, and a walking errand or two. I am blessed with my own small study, where I work pleasantly aware of my artist wife painting in an adjacent room. (Hey—maybe I do live the writer’s dream.)

I write slowly, agonizing over words, cursed by an editorial mindset that prevents freeflow. I rely on the reference books and literary collection that surrounds me, as well as search engines. (I look with astonishment, perhaps envy, at would-be writers laptopping away in cafes.) When I find myself blocked, I play some jazz on our out-of-tune piano, thus abusing a different part of the brain. In good weather, I’ll take a half day off here and there to bike or walk or maybe play golf with wisecracking codgers on the city courses. And a big trip now and then.

I have trouble outlining. It’s so boring. It feels better to surprise myself with what comes next, then sweat through the transitions and reshaping. But I keep resolving to outline; I’m sure it would make things easier and keep first drafts from running absurdly long. I’m better at simply listing the elements I want to include, even if half end up not making it. My advice: If it’s within your personality, outline, especially under tight deadlines.

When you write do you always have a certain audience in mind?

It depends. In occasional forays into poetry, I write only for the words. “We are the words that tell who we are,” said poet Eduardo Galeano. For my columns and books on writing, I imagine an audience craving refreshment from nuts-and-bolts lessons or inspirational pablum—an audience that will welcome entertainment, even sarcasm, along with good advice. For niche writing I try to gauge the niche reader’s knowledge and tastes; for example, in my discursive guide The Urban Tree Book, I pulled back on the farcical stuff and indulged in the tree-adulation I shared with the intended audience.

Audiences are so segmented, diverse even within a segment. Is there any general reader? The closest might be the reader of non-genre fiction, and when I try my hand at such writing I don’t think of audience. The story rules. I’ve published some (legitimate) fiction, but have three novels sitting in drawers. Should I have pegged them to readers I don’t care about? That would have required some serious dough up front, and no one was offering.

There is that school of thought that says write to please yourself. And writers like John Updike picture a certain typical reader. But if you want to publish, ultimately you have to please an editor, and an editor’s job is to please an audience, sometimes the widest audience possible. There will be revisions that conflict with your integrity. It will come down to balancing values: what you want to be, what you want achieve, what you want to earn.

Come back tomorrow to read Plotnik’s answer to the great question: Why write? Haven’t picked up your copy of Spunk & Bite? Why not grab a copy and punch up your language? You might also want to check out Art’s website, Spunky’s Blogrr, and, Plotnik’s official bio. If you haven’t already, read my review of The Elements of Authorship then return for more soundbites from the Great Plotnik!

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