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Nance Van Winckel






Process Narrative

When it comes to use of physical and digital media, Nance Van Winckel’s current writing process is highly compartamentalized. Her physical process is grounded in a daily afternoon walk around the park near her home. Once she comes to the page, starting out with longhand notes and drafts-sometimes 3 or 4, sometimes 10 or 12-Van Winckel writes in a variety of yellow legal tablet notebooks, one for each new project. From there, she types revised drafts on one of three different computers: an iMac desktop, a Mac laptop, and an iPad.

Depending on where she is working-on the road to and from Vermont, for instance, where she teaches at Vermont College, as opposed to her home in Washington-she may write in Pages on her iPad using a keyboard, then email poem drafts to herself and convert them into Word; or else type on her laptop computer and transfer files to the desktop using a memory stick. Once the work reaches a digital space, however, Van Winckel rarely returns to physical pages and longhand for revision. Rather than printing out copies of typed poems, she primarily revises on the screen.

This compartamentalized approach continues on the local level with individual poem drafts. Whereas she used to have a strict “one poem per page” policy in her early years as a professional writer, Nance has since begun to “nest” some poems together. She now works on two or three poems simultaneously, on the same page, with various images and lines respectively residing in the right or left-hand margins. These poems may converse, and end up as part of a series. Other times, they might resolve into a single poem during the revision stage. In this sense, Van Winckel’s longhand process (and perhaps her digital process as well) recalls a set of Matryoshka dolls: the small components continually fitting together in larger physical containers before eventually ending up in the “mother” container-that is, the hard drive.

With fiction, Van Winckel’s process is somewhat different. She will often entertain the “voices in her head” that “chatter away” towards a story idea during her afternoon walks, letting the characters and possibilities exist in the abstract for awhile before committing the time and focus to an actual, physical draft. Even her earliest fiction likewise began away from the page, with ideas for her first collection of stories coming to her during a drive to Chicago, and ending up scribbled on scratch paper found in the car.

In revision, Van Winckel describes herself as a “slasher,” making merciless cuts to the poems before passing them on to a few trusted readers and critics (including her husband, the artist Rik Nelson). As for her eventual approach to backing-up and archiving work, it, too, is divided in terms of media types and repositories. Upon completeing a manuscript (that is, seeing it through to publication), Van Winckel removes the digital files from her desktop hard drive and puts them on a back-up disk. She also maintains a physical file, in which she stores galleys of the book alongisde the yellow legal tablet in which the project first took shape.