It’s been snowing buckets all day. I can’t even see the world anymore; just snow. So much snow.
I’ve exhausted my job application possibilities for the day and the snow is keeping me indoors so I’ve decided to start working on my novel. So far this has involved:
So basically I’m almost done! See you on amazon.com, fools!
I used to believe that the reason I couldn’t write fiction is that I couldn’t think of any ideas but now I have lots of ideas and I’m still not writing. My new imaginary obstacle is that I feel like I don’t know enough about the various geographic locations, subcultures, and occupations that inspire me. I call this obstacle ‘imaginary’ because even when I try to write about things that I know pretty well, I still feel stuck because I feel like I can never know enough.
As you all may have noticed, I lead an incredibly charmed life and one of the charming things about it is that I am friends with the world’s most brilliant and generous people. I wrote to a few of them today, lamenting my writer’s block, and I deem their responses (edited for length) worthy of reprint here:
When I was writing the NaNoWriMo novel (still at 10,000 words and holding), I approached this problem in two ways:
- Research on the internet. The best part about this is it feels like procrastination, but you actually are sort of accomplishing something… My suggestion is that you set yourself a time limit if you do end up doing this…
- Saying “fuck it.” One of the scenes in my novel is set in El Paso… I have never been to El Paso, nor I do I ever anticipate being there. But the scene isn’t about being in El Paso, it’s about all the other shit that happens.
The “fuck it” method won’t work if whatever you’re writing is about whatever you’re struggling with (so you writing a story called “How Much It Sucks to Be a Longshoreman” would probably benefit from the “research” technique).
So I guess you say to yourself “Look, this scene isn’t about [occupation/subculture/location], it’s about [more interesting character trait/event/situation]. I’m just going to write this the way I think it should be and not worry about the ‘correctness’ of it right now, because I can always go back and change it.” That last part – YOU CAN ALWAYS GO BACK AND CHANGE IT – got me through a lot of hard spots.
One of my favorite science-fiction writers, Samuel R. Delany, once said: ‘Use what you know to write more authentically about what you don’t know’. As in, use your life experience(s) to help construct the fictional worlds you hope to create but don’t know about. I was just thinking about this yesterday in regards to a Panamanian-American writer, Christina Henriquez, and a short story book she recently put out to moderate acclaim. She’s only half-Panamanian, grew up in Delaware and only visited in the summers. Does she know about Panamanian life? I want to say no, but does it matter as long as the story is good? … There have been writers who say that all fiction is fantastical (Bernard Malamud for instance) because the reality one constructs in fiction is just that–a representation, not the actual thing-in-itself. Fiction is fictional. Tautologies!…Be practical: try to outline your idea and sketch out structural points. Why does that character fall in love with that character? Will they meet again later in the novel? How much times does your book span? Again, most of what you can learn about these things is done through reading–how marvelous! Listen to more music, read books you wouldn’t normally read, watch films and generally absorb more culture. That is a good solution to not knowing (or feeling like not knowing). Twain once said that the person who reads the wrong books is as good as the person who doesn’t read at all…
Don’t be so afraid to make mistakes because that is the only way you will ever learn to write well. Rewriting and revising are elemental to any prose so you should probably get used to that.…I suppose if I had to choose an operative word in your original message it would be “afraid”. What are you scared of? Writing is silly. I sit in a silly room, with a silly lamp next to me, tapping away at my silly keyboard in hopes to create something rich, meaningful and hopefully page-turning.
One other thing I learned from my writing workshop: you need thick skin. I’ve been learning that since I first got disqualified from a writing contest in 5th grade for a short story that was too long.Alas, fuck up, revise and write more.