English Composition II - Dr. Lovell's class

Page 2:  Twenty-Four Questions: An Interview with Alberto Alvaro Rios

[Page 1: On Writing]    [Page 2: On the Writing Process]     [Page 3: On Reading] 
[Page 4: On Creativity and Imagination] [Page 5: On Teaching] [Page 6: On Culture]  
[Page 7: Some General Questions]    [Page 8: On the September 11th Attacks]  
[Page 9: An Essay by Ríos on the September 11th Attacks:"The Night of No Airplanes"
            and Some Final Comments]

On the Writing Process

Dana Burns: After reading a little bit about you I was curious about whether or not you have a certain "ritual" you follow when writing? I remember when I was first learning how to write a paper our teacher taught us to brainstorm, outline, revise and all of that "hard" stuff. Do you take all the steps? Or do you just feel compelled and begin writing? Also I was wondering if you already have in your head the endings of your stories? Or do they come after you have written the beginning? Thanks so much.

AR: Rituals are all worth trying--unless they become habit. Then the ritual loses its magic. For me, I certainly have rituals, but they change every day. And I return to ones I've forgotten, sometimes, and try out ones that sound good. But the key to this is that all they do--and what they must do--is trick you into writing. The best ones trick you into your best writing. Next, do I have the endings in mind ahead of time? No, I never do, not personally. I know this technique works for many writers. But, for me, when I get to the end I'm just as surprised as anyone! 

Rhonda Standridge: The article "Discovering the Alphabet of Life" by Sheilah Britton touches on your writing process. It quotes you as saying, "I don't know where these phrases come from. It's kind of like life-fishing. You have this big artistic ear; it's like a big net that sort of trolls through the waters of living," and that you "hear things that other people hear, maybe you read them. But you hear or remember or see them differently, and if you have heard it, well, it's yours." No doubt, over the years you've compiled quite a collection of phrases, lines, words, and hooks. How do you organize them for future reference? Do you keep a database? Do you systematically place them in the back of one of your "notebooks"? Or do you just have hundreds of little bits of paper, napkins, café coasters, and matchbooks all stuffed in a desk drawer? I’m very interested in hearing more about your technique in this regard and about any other “tools” you use to tackle the writing process. Thanks! 

AR: This is fun, this question. And you've done some reading, so you know about my notebooks! Well, the answer is that I do all those things. The computer has changed the writing process for writers, so my "notebook" has become my computer, I suppose. But the point of compiling things and sticking them here and there--the point is to surprise myself. When I find a little note in an unexpected place, I feel a jolt, and often it will be a reaction to the line I've read, a reaction that causes me to write a next line. I'm always working on many pieces of writing, so that I never get bogged down in just one thing. The worst thing a writer can do is to think! The best thing to do is to react, which includes thinking but doesn't let it act as an impediment or a censor. When you read something, you think something--write that down. That's what I'm always trying to do. 

Rhonda Standridge: Mr. Ríos, in Britton's article,  you speak about your writing process beginning with "a phrase, a word, a line-never a whole idea" because it would "bring its own set of rules and negate the limitless possibilities that fuel" your work. I find this statement very interesting and would love for you to elaborate! For example, what are some of the rules you find imposed on you by using a "whole idea?" Also, what are some of the possibilities you are afforded by beginning your process with just a simple word, line, or phrase? Thanks! 

AR: This is a good question about a complicated process. But it works something like this--keep in mind I am inventing this as I write. If I were going to write about a fire--if it were a particular fire, then I would be bound to talk about the journalistic details that need to be part of understanding the piece--who died, how many fire engines, were the pets saved. I couldn't really lie, or exaggerate much, or change things—I couldn't really get away with saying that they were purple firetrucks, for example. Now, if it is simply a fire I'm writing about, or fire itself--the phrase, unhinged from the event--then I could talk about the purple in the flame lighting up the firetrucks, making them reflect a purple color in the red. Do you see what happened? If I were to start with the whole idea, I would start to feel like a journalist. Released from the story, I start to feel like I can create something on my own terms. The best part is, now I could go back and apply the more creative part to the greater story--and it would be believable as a result. I hope that makes sense to you.  

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Web page author and instructor: Dr. Linda Lovell
This page was last updated on 11/20/2007.