On Writing: Joyce Carol Oates and Running Through Your Story

Years ago, I attended the South Hampton Writers Conference, and one of the best speakers there was Joyce Carol Oates. What a sight; she looks like a prettier version of Olive Oil and writes with such constant quality and voluminous output that I really wanted to know her secret.

To my shock, she told all of us up front.

Joyce Carol Oates said a key to her productivity is that she she runs. Yeah, runs. More than that, she watches a movie as she runs.

No, she’s not on some treadmill viewing The Godfather for the fortieth time. Oates watches “the movie of the book I’m writing, from beginning to end.” Even more interestingly, she claims she doesn’t start writing that particular book until she can watch the movie from beginning to end without glitches during a run.

The idea is unique, magical and sensible all at the same time. Not many writers use running as a visualization tool. Fewer require themselves to be able to “view” their entire project mentally prior to beginning to write. However, the power and confidence that would give a writer is stunningly sensible.

Oates’ spectacularly interior planning method has stayed with me all these years, and while i don’t run through my books like she does hers, I do let them simmer and emerge in my noggin while prepping to write them. Many a time my wife will discuss with me some family matter while I’m off with my detectives Mallory and Gunner chasing a suspect or dodging bullets. By the time I return to the present, she’s already smirking at me and gracefully starts over.

I hope the exquisite Ms. Oates and her method inspires some of you as she does me.

Christopher Ryan is author of City of Woe, available on Kindle and Nook, and in print. For more info, click here.


About chrisryanwrites

I do my best to tell fast-paced stories with humor and heart. My fiction work is available on amazon.com. Here, I’ll write about the sources for those stories from what I read, watch, listen to, and observe to my experiences as a former award-winning journalist, high school teacher, actor, and producer.
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2 Responses to On Writing: Joyce Carol Oates and Running Through Your Story

  1. Perfect description of her appearance and intriguing description of her approach to writing. I don’t approach writing that way exactly but do really believe in the power of background mental processing going on as ideas take shape.


  2. Just this morning I was prepping a unit on Frankenstein for my class and in reading Mary Shelley’s 1831 preface, I was thrilled to discover she spent a lot of time dreaming or imagining her characters and what they would do, until she could see the creature’s story, and in fact it work her up terrified. The connection to Oates’ technique was vivid and exciting. I thought you might enjoy knowing we are embracing a fine legacy.


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