What’s the hardest part of writing?
Sticking to it. Because usually about half way through a rough draft, and then again halfway through every subsequent revision, I think it stinks and I want to give up. Who wants to work on something that stinks? I have to remember that losing faith and flailing and mucking about are all part of my writing process, and I have to believe that it will all lead somewhere.
What does it take to write a book?
Perseverance—being too stubborn and pig-headed to quit. Faith—believing in yourself. Stamina—sticking with a project until the end. Resolve—making the commitment to finish the book. Duct tape is also useful.
What do you do when you get stuck?
One of three things.
- Lie down for a nap. The best ideas come to me when I’m falling asleep or waking up. So I keep a notepad and pen by my bed. I also nap during the day. This doubles the chances that a good idea will come to me.
- Take a long walk. The rhythm of walking sparks my imagination. If you try this, don’t forget to take a paper and pen.
- Write an email to a friend. I start out intending just to whine, but by the end of the message, many times I’ve worked out the problems I’m having with the story.
Do your characters talk to you?
Never. For a long time, I thought this meant that I wasn’t a real writer. Now I realize that I just describe the writing process differently. Some writers say, “My character said such and such.” But I say, “I thought up this great thing for my character to say!” I’m always aware that I’m the one doing the creating.
If you could do anything, what would it be?
Compose music. I am amazed by anyone who can do this. I can't even play the piano, in spite of five years of lessons. It's my own fault; I never practiced.
What piece of writing are you most proud of?
A letter that was read by only a few people. Not long ago, a friend needed two letters of recommendation that would accompany her application to medical school. She asked me to write one of them. She got accepted. I like to think my letter helped her get what she wanted.
What do you wish you had known sooner about writing?
That lots of writers—even successful ones—are unsure of themselves sometimes. I thought I was the only one!
Give me your best advice in three words.
When I was in seventh grade, our science teacher promised to give anyone who studied for eight hours for the final an A, regardless of how they actually did on the test. Many of us felt we had been saved. All we had to do was study?
What we failed to realize was that if we studied for that amount of time, then of course we would learn the material, and that—not the A on the exam—was exactly what the teacher wanted for us. It’s the same with writing.
Three words? Take your pick: Do the time. Bum to chair. Just show up. Or, as Dory says in the movie Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming.”
* NAQs: Never-Asked Questions.