Ashley Prentice Norton on Writing
Whenever people find out I’m a writer, the first thing they always want to know is what my “process” is. I’m all about the discipline method. When I’m working on something, it’s usually every day for three to four hours, or more if I can. I can’t afford to wait for inspiration – to write when I’m in the mood. I don’t have time for that.
I do have someone I check in with every day, in the form of daily logs: e-mails which contain how many hours I’ve worked, a summary of what I’ve written, as well as what direction I’m going in for the next day. If I’ve accumulated enough pages (usually twenty), I attach those as well. Then we meet once a week and go over them. He isn’t a writer, which is fantastic because he manages to have an appreciation for language, character and plot, but there’s not a workshop-y or competitive element that often arises when writers swap work. Working with him has also made the writing process much less lonely.
I did do a lot of work on my first novel at a graduate creative writing program and some people might think this was the reason I was able to sell it. This is absolutely not true. These programs do serve some great functions: they afford you the time to write, allow you to be part of a community that takes writing seriously, and you meet more established writers who might be willing to mentor you down the line. But in addition to being very expensive, these programs won’t give you a leg up on getting an agent if your work isn’t any good, or bring you a higher advance should you be lucky enough to sell your work. I promise.
Another thing people are often surprised by is when I tell them that, for me anyway, it is not just one easy continuum from writing a book to publishing it. That when I begin a book, I’m ecstatic to finish it and for everyone to read it. But by the time I get to the end, and turn it over to my editor, I almost hope no one does. It’s not that I’m really afraid that it won’t be well received, I just feel like it’s been this very private experience and I’m ambivalent about sharing it. I’m also not sure which is more mortifying: having my inner circle read it or people I don’t even know. The antidote I’m convinced is just to not think about it too much and start the next one.
Ashley Prentice Norton is the author of If You Left and the critically acclaimed novel The Chocolate Money. She is a graduate of Exeter, Georgetown, and the creative writing program at New York University. She lives in New York with her husband and three children.