Secret Library Podcast


Secret Library Podcast Episodes

#80 Sandra Scofield


Sandra Scofield is like a warm hug from writing itself.

For ages, I've loved Sandra Scofield's The Scene Book with its reassuring composition notebook cover and its practical advice about writing great scenes. Scenes, after all, are the building blocks of a good story and as a long-time writing instructor and fiction writer herself, Sandra knows how to put a scene together properly.

So when I learned that Sandra had a new book about writing coming on, I knew I had to have her on the show. Her latest, The Last Draft, tackles that tricky topic of revision and polishing your work until its ready to be read by others.

I adored talking with Sandra because her approach is so generous and comforting to the writer. She grants permission to explore the world you want to build in your story fully and gently guides us through the process of working through your draft. Those who love analog and stepping away from the computer at points to reflect will feel at home with Sandra.

Above all, please let this be a conversation that inspires you to keep going with your story. Many people fear revision and I hope this will assuage that concern. Sandra is a kind yet effective guide. We are in good hands, so do enjoy this episode, even if revision isn't in your immediate future. Knowing there is a way through helped keep me on track, and I hope it does for you as well.

Listen Up on iTunes or Stitcher | Sandra's Site | Sandra's Books | The Last Draft | Swim: Songs of the Sixties

Discussed in Episode 80 with Sandra Scofield

  • Sandra wrote both of her books for people who aren’t in MFA programs and maybe don’t have access to a lot of writing information.

  • She didn’t go through an MFA herself either.

  • “Whatever I know about writing I’ve learned by studying books.” On how she learned to to write.

  • Intentionally writes in a conversational, reassuring style. Not straight and prescriptive.

  • “I had to figure those things out, and so I thought, I bet people out there are having to figure them out too.”

  • “Everybody starts out as an apprentice.” On being a young writer.

  • For example, Willa Cather didn’t start out as Willa Cather. She started out as someone wanting to write.

  • As a writer you have to have a certain amount of confidence, but also you have to be humble. There is so much to learn.

  • “The only way to learn it is to read and write.”

  • “You read and you read as a writer.” On using novels as textbooks.

  • “Once a reader starts reading a book, she just wants an experience.” On what readers want from stories.

  • “I used my books.”

  • Would read with a marker, noting scenes, how it would begin and end, the construction of the book.

  • Or use a marker to denote action, to see how propulsive, or not, your plot is. Or do it on a favorite book to see how that author does it.

  • A good place to start is with a really good YA novel, like Island of the Blue Dolphins.

  • “At least once a year I go back and read something from my childhood.” On re-engaging with stories.

  • “Summary is efficient.”

  • Summary vs scene, maybe summary isn’t as bad as it’s portrayed.

  • “You can’t put everything you know about a character into scenes.” On the usefulness of summary.

  • The summary gives the reader a different way to breathe in the book. Different form and different pacing.

  • You see the summary a lot more in European and English novels than in American novels.

  • We’re at a point where the whole concept of a novel and a story is exploding.

  • Immigrants, refugees, different voices, classes, education levels, etc. The range of voice is fabulous.

  • The expectation of what “literary fiction” is is changing.

  • “If the story bugs me for a year or two then I’ve got to write it down.” On writing for oneself.

  • Different vibes at different writers workshops where she’s taught.

  • Desire to share at Iowa vs ambition to publish at Squaw Valley.

  • Genesis of the Scenes book was during a period of sickness. She was going through all of her possessions with the morbid thought of getting rid of them before she dies so someone else wouldn't have to, then found all of her old writers workshop notebooks and realized they constituted a curriculum.

  • “It’s good for the culture...for people to be immersed in story.” On writing ones own story.

  • Writing a story you want to tell is your chance to build a world that has the values important to you. World building - not constrained to speculative fiction - is your opportunity to decide what a world looks like, for good & for bad.

  • “The things that you care about will just bubble up.” On how you build your own world in fiction.

  • “The stories you have to tell, if you don’t tell them, they don’t get told.” On the importance of writing your own stories.

  • “I am not pushing a definition of the novel.” On teaching writing.

  • “You have to have a kind of arrow that shoots through your story.” On the bones of your novel.