Friday Five: The Marilynne Robinson Edition (Part Deux)


Last week’s Friday Five with Marilynne Robinson went over well
so I thought I’d share some more insights from her scary-smart mind:

1)  Be aware of the effect metaphor has on other metaphors.  Rather than writing your story as "beads on a string," view it as a resonating chamber in which all pieces must be affected by whatever else is vibrating.

2)  If you write with a public in mind, you’re dead.

3)  When you’re writing something and encounter great difficulty, don’t be discouraged.  You can’t write good fiction if you feel you already know everything about what you’re writing.  Stumble on something?  It means it’s a legitimate question.  Set it aside and let your mind do the work.  Don’t have to flail away until you find a "solution."  Don’t force the issue by using your Front Office Mind.

4)  Your Front Office Mind is how you operate on a daily basis (getting rid of telemarketers, making appointments, etc.)  The Front Office Mind is not the mind you use when you write.  The other mind, the middle mind, is where all the work is done; it’s been thinking about things for a very long time, waiting for you to ask. 

5)  Short story has a responsibility to itself: the posing of a question that somehow answers itself.

Bonus gem:  Pay attention to when you’re writing well so that it’s easier to fall back into that mode the next time.

12 thoughts on “Friday Five: The Marilynne Robinson Edition (Part Deux)

  1. I love the Front Office Mind idea. I’m a firm believer that our brains are always working quietly and industriously away on whatever problems are in our narratives. We don’t even realize it until the brain pops out the solution in the form of an epiphany in the shower, or something.

    I told a friend recently to stop focusing on this one writing concern she had, do some other projects, and when she came back to the first issue … more than likely, she’d be full of news ideas and solutions.



  2. “…view it as a resonating chamber in which all pieces must be affected by whatever else is vibrating.”

    Ooooh, I’m going to put this next to my computer It really resonates (ha!) with me. This is reason #longstringofnumbers why we can’t wholly appreciate (or adequately critique) tiny snippets, or even sample chapters.


    • I think the resonating chamber idea was/is my very favorite gem from Marilynne. It makes so much more sense to me than the beads on a string idea, especially since I struggle with moving outside a set chronology anyway; the beads idea kind of locks me in place whereas the resonating chamber sets me free!


  3. “pay attention when you’re writing well”

    well, i never realize it until i hit a snag. then i think,”how did i write those pages last weekend?”

    if she has a statement on how to NOT think when you’re writing and she can tell me how to accomplish that, send on those words of wisdom. for the past three weeks everyone says i need to write my story like i write my posts. the thing is . . . i think A LOT when I write those. and it’s me talking . . . not my characters.


    • I think she means to take note as you’re writing well, during the actual act, so you can hit that same stride the next time. At least, that’s how I approach it. It’s the same with my writing or hooping; when it feels relaxed and just good, I make note of that sensation so I can duplicate it.

      As for not thinking while you write, it seems to be all part of that idea of Flow. Getting into whatever you’re writing and letting it come out without fighting it. I don’t know if I agree with the idea of writing your fiction the same way you write your posts since they are very different processes for me. I will definitely keep my eyes open for something in my notes that pertains, though!


  4. Thank you, Tracy!

    I especially love the concept of middle mind vs. front office mind.

    Have a good, maybe middle mind weekend! I’m going off to look for my middle mind for a while.


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