Sometimes while ‘net surfing I come upon a treasure. This week at YouTube I discovered Robert Olen Butler’s “Inside Creative Writing,” an experimental webcast presented in realtime in October 2001, where over the course of 17 webcasts, he writes a short story from scratch and shows every detail of his creative process. I found it invaluable and fascinating to see a master writer at work, and you get a peek into his mind through his frank commentary about the choices he makes as he creates the story.
Robert Olen Butler won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1993 for A Good Scent From A Strange Mountain, a collection of stories capturing the lives of Vietnamese immigrants living in Louisiana. He served in Viet Nam from 1969 to 1971. He is the Frances Eppes Diatinguished Professor, holding the Michael Shaara Chair in Creative Writing at Florida State University where he teaches in the Masters and PhD programs.
From his collection of vintage postcards, he chose a real photo postcard from 1912 showing a biplane with a torn wing hanging in the sky the moment before it crashes to earth. On the back of the postcard written in the handwriting of the amateur photographer who took the photo, “This is Earl Sandt of Erie, Pennsylvania in his aeroplane just before it fell.” Inspired by this note, Robert Olen Butler writes a short story that eventually through the organic process–the dream and re-dream, he calls it–comes to be about a man confronted by his own mortality.
In between sessions at his computer, where you can see the screen as he writes, see the words forming, and hear the classical music he listens to while writing, he pauses to talk about the act and art of creative writing, the dreaming and re-dreaming of literary fiction, his thinking—in short, you get to see his entire creative process. He finishes the short story in video #15, (I think) and does final editing and polishing in videos #16 and #17, titles it “This Is Earl Sandt,” and gives a final reading to the webcast audience, wrapping up a successful Internet experience.
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September has waltzed in and I’ve got a serious Fall schedule lined up. I’ve got my new apartment in order, decided on my Nano project, and now I’m ready to wrestle with words. But before October hustles through the door, I’ll be writing The Bone Box this month, which I hope to finish in October while also prepping for Nano. (The Foreigner is well in hand, but I don’t know when I’ll finish it. Not in November, that’s for sure.)