Neil Gaiman demystifies writer’s block

Who hasn’t been there? The blank page. The blinking cursor. The author’s horrifically empty torture chamber: writer’s block.

Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman  in a snuggly sweater

Well, according to Neil Gaiman, best-selling author of the Sandman comic book series, Coraline and many more super-imaginative works of fiction, writer’s block is just as much a fiction as anything else that pours out of an author’s mind. In this fascinating interview on the Goodreads website, he talks about how his ambition as a writer has evolved over the years and offers these pearls of wisdom about the dreaded you-know-what (shhhh… don’t say it out loud or it might come true!):

Writer’s block is this thing that is sent from the gods—you’ve offended them. You’ve trod on a crack on the pavement, and you’re through. The gods have decided. It’s not true. What is really true is you can have a bad day. You can have a bad week. You can get stuck. But what I learned when I was under deadline is that if you write on the bad days, even if you’re sure everything you’ve written is terrible, when you come to it tomorrow and you reread it, most of it’s fixable. It may not be the greatest thing you’ve ever written, but you fix it, and actually it’s a lot better than you remember it being. And the weird thing is a year later when you’re copyediting and reading the galleys through for the first time in months, you can remember that some of it was written on bad days. And you can remember that some of it was written on terrific days. But it all reads like you. Fantastic stuff doesn’t necessarily read better than the stuff written on the bad days. Writers have to be like sharks. We keep moving forward, or we die.

So on that note, here’s a toast to all the other authors out there: have lots of fun over the holiday season and then sit at your desk and work. Cheers!

Photo credit: Lvovsky via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Underwriting can be deadly to any story

Great advice from Rachel Starr Thompson about the pitfalls of underwriting. No, that’s not the insurance industry kind of underwriting, it’s when an author tries too hard to show without telling and then skips the interesting stuff going on in the characters’ heads that actually makes any story compelling.

Nope, not this kind of underwriting.

Nope, not this kind of underwriting.

Photo credit: free pictures of money / Foter.com / CC BY

The grim reaper. No, not Death – the book editor!

Nice little post about the pain and ultimate pleasure of the editing process, written by fellow Montreal author Alice Zorn. This is something I’ll be facing very shortly…

An environmentally conscious editor on the way to work.

An environmentally conscious editor on the way to work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo credit: Bill Gracey / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Where do you get your ideas?

This is a question that authors get asked a lot. I’ve thought about my own creative process before and produced unsatisfactory answers like, “They just come to me,” “When I’m in the shower,” or “I dreamed up my second book. Seriously, it literally came to me in a dream.”

But today an idea popped into my head as I was making my lunch. So that just proves that I have ideas because I’m hungry. No wait, that’s not it. This idea was about having ideas. And what I realized was that ideas come from reading a lot of non-fiction, be it news articles, books, scientific studies or bathroom graffiti:

graffiti

Thought-provoking bathroom graffiti.

Here’s why non-fiction can provide the inspiration for fiction: it’s because the human brain is wired to make connections and produce those sought-after eureka moments. That’s why human beings are so successful; our evolutionary advantage is that we can create solutions to problems. Of course “divine inspiration” is the non-scientific explanation for this phenomenon…

Even invertebrate animals come up with ideas based on their surroundings, so people definitely can (even those who lack backbones). The key thing is the fuel. Reading fiction might produce ideas – and it’s definitely important to read a wide range of fiction to learn about craft and style – but it’s all-to-easy to consciously or subconsciously fall in love with another author’s idea and simply reproduce it with a twist. Truly original creation comes from the juxtaposition of unrelated information that sparks something new.

Reading extensively is essential for any author, whatever their level of experience, but I would argue that while immersion in the very best fiction can provide stylistic inspiration, unique ideas are sparked by non-fiction. Maybe even by blog posts…

Photo credit: Chris Blakeley / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Narrative distance doesn’t have to be consistent

Using examples from Hemingway, author Ron MacLean has written a wonderfully concise post on the Grub Street website demolishing the oft-taught maxim that narrative distance should remain constant over the course of a piece of writing.

Keyhole

Narrative distance is analogous to shot choices in movie making, such as close-ups, POV, wide shots, birds-eye view, etc. There is absolutely no reason (other than a desire to be ridiculously pedantic) for maintaining a single distance over an entire novel or story any more than using the same shots throughout a movie. Thanks for the insight, Ron!

Photo credit: katerha / Foter.com / CC BY

A great story is a great story…

Read about the amazing success story of Romanian author Eugen Chirovici (EO Chirovici) who published 10 novels in his native country with some success, then moved to Britain with his family three years ago and is now likely to earn seven figures from his first English-language novel.

The article I’ve linked to makes it sound like Chirovici’s success is out of the blue, but a little research shows this to be far from the truth. His non-fiction works have already been published in the US, he’s a member of the Romanian Academy of Sciences and holds three (!) honorary PhDs in Economics, Communication and History.

I’m a big fan of Vladimir Nabokov (be sure to read the Alfred Appel annotated version of Lolita first), and Chirovici is another Eastern European author who also goes to prove that English doesn’t even need to be your first language if you have imagination, storytelling ability and, oh yeah, maybe a touch of genius.