Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
- Banish perfection. Commit to writing a terrible first draft and get it done.
- Read outside of your comfort zone. You can learn about story and language from every genre and it will help you develop your own voice.
- There is no expiration date on your talent.
- Find readers you trust and learn to walk the line between arrogance and humility.
- Ignore all of the above. Everyone is different. There is no “right” way to write a book. If you’re working, if you’re writing steadily and finishing projects, then you’ve found your process. Protect it.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
There are people who say writer’s block doesn’t exist. I think they’re either the luckiest people alive or big fat liars. For me, there are two kinds of writer’s block.
If you’re stuck in the story and not sure how to proceed:
- Take a shower.
- Take a walk.
- Take a drive.
- Have a conversation with one of your characters. Ask him or her the questions that have you flummoxed. (I often do this on walks. The trick is to pretend you’re talking to someone on your cell.)
If you’re having trouble starting a project or returning to one. If you’re not able to face the page: This is the more serious kind of block. It begins to feel insurmountable and I find it’s usually linked to feelings of depression and self-doubt.
First of all, remember that just about everyone goes through this. There are exceptions, but I guarantee some of your favorite authors have had spells where they simply shut down and couldn’t write. It doesn’t mean you aren’t a writer or that you don’t have the chops to be a professional. But how to get past it?
- My best solution to this is to simply start writing what you’re feeling. “I don’t know what this scene is supposed to be about. I want to write this book but I don’t know where to start. I know the hero meets the villain somewhere in here, but where? Should it be in a palace or a forest? Okay, let’s say it’s in a palace.” You write the intention of the scene and find your way into it. You trick your fingers into starting to type. You tell yourself the story.
- Read something wonderful. Sometimes great prose is all it takes to make the storyteller in you perk up.
- Read something terrible. Yeah, sometimes I just pick up something awful because it makes me feel better about my own skills. I’m not kidding and I’m not naming names.
- Don’t hide it. Tell your friend or critique partner that you’re blocked. Ask someone to give you an assignment.
- Write something else. Search “writing prompt” tags on tumblr or elsewhere and just work on something else.
Should I major in English? Creative Writing? Should I pursue an MFA in Creative Writing?
Everyone has a different philosophy on this. Here’s my feeling but you should seek out second opinions: I went to a fancy college and I majored in English. I loved every minute of it. But you do NOT have to go to a fancy college or major in English to become an author. Many colleges post their syllabi and reading lists on line. Steal them! Read what they’re reading. There are wonderful things to be gained from an English or Creative writing major. But if you major in Engineering or Classics or Anthropology, your writing will benefit from different sources of inspiration and expertise. The same thing is true if you’re working on a fishing boat or at a Taco Bell. As long as you continue writing and reading, there is no wrong choice here. As for the MFA, if you want to pursue a career in literary fiction, this is probably a good choice. You make important connections and having a good MFA program on your resume can help you get short work published in reputable lit mags. But if you intend to work in Young Adult or genre, I think the benefits are less clear. Obviously, this is a personal choice for everyone. There’s a lot to be said for deadlines, workshops, and mentorship. But you need to balance that against what debt you may accrue from a graduate program. None of these programs are a golden ticket to getting published. Most authors have to work day jobs before and sometimes long after they’re published. If you’re carrying a lot of student debt, it may be tougher to devote time and mental energy to your art.