Guest Post: Frugal Writer

That’s right, it’s another guest post! This time written by client Amalia Gladhart. I’ll continue to recline on my chaise, eating bonbons and drinking champagne while my clients keep this blog thing going for me…

Amalia has published translations of two novels by Ecuadorian Alicia Yánez Cossío, THE POTBELLIED VIRGIN and BEYOND THE ISLANDS and is completing a translation of TRAFALGAR, by Angélica Gorodischer. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in The Iowa Review, Stone Canoe, Bellingham Review, Seneca Review, and she just won the 2011 Burnside Review fiction chapbook contest with “Detours,” a series of linked prose poems/flash fictions as well as honorable mention in the 2012 Glimmer Train very short fiction contest. Amalia blogs at Se enseña aquí? Translation, writing, study abroad.

I’m a frugal writer. I save scraps. I collect. I can be hard-nosed when a manuscript needs cutting, but that’s largely because I don’t really give anything up: I save all the good bits in another file. I like to think of this frugality as a reflection of tenacious optimism or perseverance, though it may be self-delusion.
But sometimes, in a later project, I find a way to use those bits–a turn of phrase, a chunk of dialogue, a marvelous paragraph about a character’s odd hobby that clashed in its first home.

Maybe this is why, in visual arts, I’m often drawn to collage or assemblage. I like thinking about how things are framed, how perspective changes meaning. I like the reconfigured, the recycled, the rescued.

Maybe it’s just a high-toned excuse for eavesdropping on buses and sidewalks, in museums and grocery stores. It’s certainly why I don’t travel with ear buds–I need to listen to the scraps of conversation, the traffic, even the awful elevator music that reminds me of that swoon-worthy song we all loved way back when.

Certain lines and images have been with me for a long time, waiting. I won’t shoehorn them in just anywhere, but I don’t abandon them. I tinker, I nudge, I build a new scaffold and test out the old beams. Something old, something new, something borrowed. . .  Most of us don’t invent too many words, so we’re always making something new out of slightly used materials. A writer is never entirely building from scratch. And there’s always that next project, beckoning.

Are you a word hoarder or a deck clearer?


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18 responses to “Guest Post: Frugal Writer

  1. Your scraps sound better than mine. I do what Ruth does: I end up with so much junk that I have to get rid of it, finally, or I’d have no room for anything good. But I love eavesdropping! The best way to do it is to put in earphones and look thoroughly disinterested. People are much more forthcoming if you look like you aren’t interested in what they’re saying.

    • gladhart

      So maybe those people I think are missing all the tasty conversations in the air around them, are also using their earphones by way of disguise and I, too, should be careful what I say!

  2. I keep things too! Hoarder all the way!! 🙂 I actually took a line from a previous MS and used it in my current.

  3. I’m a total word hoarder. Nothing makes me happier than when I discover a way to use a well-crafted character description in one story that I had to cut from another. It feels like I’ve save a life! (Correction: I’m a word hoarder with a God complex.)

  4. Lovely piece by Amalia. (And you translate too — I like that.) I collect scraps and, believe me, at my age that means I have boxes full of scraps. I have the first two paragraphs of a novel I wrote about thirty years ago. Well, I never wrote the novel — but I still like the two paragraphs. Maybe I should go back to it — but I’m a different person now — well, maybe it would be a better novel. But then again … and so thinks the scrap-collector, always in circles …

    • gladhart

      Thanks, Dorothy! Another translator, language professor–and a woman of mystery. I’m glad to meet you.

      With my own novel-starting scraps, I incorporated a few of them into a novel project that features intercalated fragments of a main character’s books–a way to “write” those books without having to write them in full. Having my cake and eating it. . . but, wait, it’s Linda’s day for bonbons, or cake.

  5. Steve McCann

    Economics has the term “creative destruction” to describe industries that die off as others replace them. I find the culling of words, phrases, and entire chapters moves me toward a literary type of creative destruction. However, like Ms. Gladhart, I tend to save much of what I cut. I justify it by imagining I’m like the carpenter, who sets aside scraps of wood for projects yet to be imagined.

    • gladhart

      Solutions in search a problem, my carpenter father calls those scraps of wood. And he’s made some gorgeous jewelry boxes from the chunks that he’s stashed.

  6. Great question. With my fiction writing, I think I pretend to be a deck clearer. I pretend to kill my darlings. But really, except for the horribly rotten ones, they’re just bound and gagged and stuffed into my closet. Not dead. But that may change with time. When I first started writing newspaper columns, editorials, and straight news pieces, I saved everything. After a while, though, I grew to realize that there are plenty more words where those came from and that I’d probably find a better way to say it later, anyway.

    • gladhart

      I’m thinking treasures, not clutter. That hostage closet can get pretty full, and some of those darlings deserve to be offed. But not all of them. Some can be stored in the attic.

  7. Lovely, Amalia. As always. Anyone reading this blog who hasn’t been to Amalia’s should go there immediately. Amalia doesn’t just write stuff that makes you think. She always writes it in a way that makes you think, “Damn, that’s good writing.”

    I save scraps, too. But I only end up using them very occasionally. The trouble is, every day brings new scraps. (That’s also how I console myself when I clear the decks.)

    • gladhart

      Thank you, Ruth. As always!

      That every day brings new scraps (treasures, treats) is the beauty of it all: there’s always a blue egg of a pebble on the beach, or a poet at the next table describing the rain to a child.

  8. I think I’m a little like you. I cut huge chunks out, then store them in another file, hoping someday they’ll come back to life at the right time, and find their place in the story world. I thoroughly treasured your piece on “Stones…” Wow. So moving. Reminded me a little of a piece I wrote on “Thinks that Sparkle” although, each person’s story is different. The story sparked when my little one threw a rock into the river, but picked one up and told me to “Keep this one Mommy. It’s shiny. Don’t throw this one away.”

    • (Sorry this posted so late. It got caught in the spam filter and I just saw it.)

    • gladhart

      Thank you! I’m glad to get to share those “Stones. . . ” And it’s lovely, thinking of keeping the shiny stone (and fits perfectly with your blog picture of the child throwing stones!).