A short story builds in my mind in a haphazard way, so it feels dishonest to describe it as a process. But I’ve been at this for a while now and while my ideas for what works for a story are constantly tuned by experience, what I’m reading, my own patience (or lack of), the making of a story takes the same basic shape.
First, I pay attention. This is more of a life condition than story-specific. But I can’t imagine writing (or even having the compulsion to write) without it. I listen to people talk, the words they use and the rhythm of them. I listen on public transit, on the street, in coffee shops. Wherever. Whether they’re talking to me or someone else. Sounds too: the slam of a dumpster lid, a kid crying. I watch. Mostly movement: traffic, animal, human, plant. I’m not looking for anything specific. Some things snag in my brain. I scribble down odd phrases and make halting, embarrassing voice memos in my phone. When enough of this clutter accumulates and starts taking a shape, I write.
In this way, I trick myself into thinking I’ve found something rather than made it. An excavation of sorts.
Crucial to the writing stage, for me, is reading it out loud. So while the accumulation is done out in the world, I must write at home.
This is a terrible, or at least terribly inefficient, way to write a novel, however. I’m nearing the end of a draft and really can’t recommend my methods at all.
Reading runs through the whole process. News, stories, essays, poetry, novels. Books out loud to my kids. Everything. I certainly don’t need to write everyday, but I can’t imagine a day without reading.