I have to confess that I have no writing method to speak of. I sit down. I write. When thoughts that are smaller than paragraphs occur to me, or if I am inconveniently away from my computer when an idea hits, I jot down fragments in notebooks, on magazine subscription cards, or whatever clean paper surface is handy. (I advise using a notebook, because fragments that are not spiral-bound tend to disappear.) Some stories I think a lot about before I write them, creating the architecture in my mind before sitting down at the keyboard and building the house with words. Other stories are made up as they go, brick by brick until I see the shape that they're making. Boy Meets Boy started as free-writing -- the voice just emerged -- and then turned into something more thought out. The different parts of The Realm of Possibility came in different ways. Some (like "My Girlfriend is in Love with Holden Caulfield") came in one writing swoop. Others (like "Smoking") started as a small image and were built step by step into a full story. As I said, there's no method to this. There's only writing. So when people ask me how to write, I tell them to write. (I also tell them to read -- writers, if nothing else, learn by example.) So my writing tips are rather bare bones:
- Sit down and write.
- If you feel you're going nowhere, take a break.
- But if deep down you think you can still keep going, keep going.
- Don't ever worry about writing something publishable; worry about writing something good.
- If you feel like you're rushing an idea, slow down. Think about it some more before continuing.
- Remember that a first draft is a first draft. Revision is always, always important.
- Ask other people to read your work. But never privilege their opinions over your own. Have them explain their criticism, and if you agree with the explanation, then start figuring out your changes.
- Remember that a story doesn't have to always reflect reality; it can create reality as well.
- Experiment. Play with form and perspective and character.
- Be truthful. This does not mean to stick with the facts. This means to be honest to the story you're telling.
- Pay attention when you read, but not so much attention that you can't enjoy it.
- Keep writing.
A Brief and Very Incomplete List of Some of the Books That Inspire Me:
Alice Hoffman's Seventh Heaven
Anne Tyler's Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant
Billy Merrell's Talking in the Dark
Charles Dickens's David Copperfield
Eireann Corrigan's You Remind Me of You
Marie Howe's What the Living Do
M.T. Anderson's Feed
Rachel Cohn's Gingerbread
Tanuja Desai Hidier's Born Confused
Virginia Euwer Wolff's True Believer