Sophfronia Scott, Harvard University graduate who went on to achieve her MFA in creative writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, returns to The Hobart Book Village Festival of Women Writers. Scott will be teaching the course Structuring a Novel to Completion, one of our two-day Intensive Workshops. For detailed description, link here: http://online.fliphtml5.com/twty/oyxt/
When Scott and her Time Magazine colleague David Gross examined Generation X for the story “Twentysomething,” they became the magazine’s youngest cover story writers. She has since gone on to write the best-selling novel All I Need to Get By and the heralded work of nonfiction Doing Business by the Book: How to Craft a Crowd-Pleasing Book and Attract More Clients and Speaking Engagements Than You Ever Thought Possible. She has contributed to three Chicken Soup for the Soul books and the book Forty Things to Do When You Turn Forty. As well, she edited How the Fierce Handle Fear—Secrets to Succeeding in Challenging Times. Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., proclaimed Scott “one of the best writers of her generation.”
Sharing a hometown with Toni Morrison, Scott is originally from Lorain, Ohio. Sophfronia now resides in Newtown, Connecticut. Find out more about her work at www.sophfronia.com.
In a Q&A with fellow returning Festival participant Stephanie Nikolopoulos, Scott shares how structure allows creativity to flourish, what her editing process looks like, and how to avoid getting pigeonholed as an author
Nikolopoulos: You’re leading the intensive workshop Structuring a Novel to Completion. Some authors say they don’t know how a story will end until they begin writing it and that they feel stifled by outlines. How does structure actually free up one’s creativity?
Scott: Understanding the structure of what you’re writing does two things for a writer. First, it helps you to be more committed to the project. I’ve observed many writers will more easily abandon a piece of writing when they’re constantly thinking, “I don’t know what this is, I don’t know if it’s any good, I don’t know what it’s about.” It’s hard to continue working on something when your energy around it is so low so much of the time. But if you know the story you’re trying to tell in your novel, and if that story excites you, you will be more eager to work on it and that makes it more likely you’ll finish it.
Nikolopoulos: What is your editing process like? Do you do a quick and messy first draft or do you labor over a near-perfect first draft? Do you get feedback as you’re writing or wait until you have a draft you’re happy with before asking for other writers’ or editors’ opinions?
Scott: I’m very much a story-minded novel writer—I want to make sure I have a strong, multi-layered story that can be sustained over 300 or more pages. I think about who my characters are, what they want, and how to create a dramatic arc for them over the course of the novel’s pages. First I think of my big picture story, then I figure out what my climax point is and I aim for that. I try to know my beginning and ending, and I’m fully aware both might change during the process. Once I know where I’m going I start writing. After I get a draft written, I like to print it up and lay it out so I can look at it and hold each chapter in my hands. That’s when I can see the holes, what’s missing in the manuscript.
When I was in an MFA program I had the luxury of a teacher/editor reading everything as the book progressed. But now my readers are my agent, (Brettne Bloom of The Book Group, who is a fantastic reader and gives precise and thoughtful editorial notes) and a couple of writer friends whose opinions I trust. I also choose one or two readers who are not writers, but they fit my idea of the audience for the book so I can see how they experience the manuscript.
Nikolopoulos: While at Time Magazine, you and David Gross collaborated on the story “Twentysomething,” about Generation X. From the Lost Generation to the Beat Generation, and from Generation X to Generation Y, society tries to label groups of people based on when they were born and their shared historical and cultural experiences. As a writer, in what ways do you see yourself speaking for your generation?
Scott: The point of the Time Magazine story was that our generation, having observed and taken in the issues of the previous generation, seemed to be proceeding with our lives in a very thoughtful, observant manner. As a writer I tend to pursue my projects in similar fashion. Yes, I want to tell a good story or write an engaging essay but I’m also conscious of the fact that the story or essay has a deeper meaning. The story or essay interests me for a reason—I know I’m trying to say something important even if I don’t know right away what it is. The novel I recently completed explores sexuality, love, identity, and faith and when you read it you may find it challenging to what you believe about these things. In the big picture my writing, I hope, on some level will always leave you questioning who you are, what you believe, what your life is, in a style that will move you in positive ways.
Nikolopoulos: You’ve written a novel about a New York City tax accountant who has to confront two powerful men from her past (All I Need to Get By) and a business book about how to attract clients and get speaking engagements (Doing Business By the Book), you’ve edited a book about overcoming fear (How the Fierce Handle Fear), and contributed essays to three Chicken Soup for the Soul books (Chicken Soup for the African American Woman’s Soul, Inspiration for Writers, and Reader’s Choice) and Forty Things to Do When You Turn Forty. Authors are sometimes told to think of themselves as a brand. How do you avoid being pigeonholed yet still build upon your previous work?
Scott: Well, at the moment I have a pretty clear vision of who I want to be as a writer—I didn’t have that when I published my first novel. The vision causes me to challenge myself to write better and be more ambitious. My best advice on this would be to define yourself so strongly that no one else will have room or cause to do it.
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