I’ve been looking more lately at how writers deal with problems of focus and concentration. When I talked to Karen Joy Fowler about Booth, I also asked her about her writing strategies.
I was interested to see in a recent interview that you don’t write steadily and consistently. “I have never managed to string more than three days of writing together,” you said.
I write very much in fits and starts. And you know, that seemed like a problem to me—it probably is a problem—but I’m too old to fix it now, so I just don’t worry about it anymore. I am who I am. I write the way I write. There’s nothing to be done about any of it.
How do you keep going? Asking for a friend.
I’ve tried different strategies at different points in my life. They’ve all been successful to a point and ultimately unsuccessful: they work for a while and then they don’t work anymore. I have tried more journaling in the hopes that something will spring from that easier kind of writing process.
I usually find that if I’m going to get inspiration, it’s going to come from somebody else’s book, so mostly I do a lot of reading and hope that someone else’s genius will reach out of the page into my brain and start me thinking about something new.
And when that happens, what then?
Then I start to write. I move very slowly forward. I try to get a paragraph, and then I rewrite that paragraph, and I rewrite that paragraph again, and then I wrote another paragraph, and I rewrite both those paragraphs. I like rewriting, so I have created a process where I do a great deal of it. I do some rewriting every day, and I try to force myself forward some small amount every day as well. The worst part is when I’m at the absolute beginning, cause I’ve got nothing to rewrite. Once I’ve got some words up, then I can proceed in a much happier way.
But “just sit down and write and something will happen” doesn’t necessarily work for you?
Not necessarily. I find that if I say, “I’m going to write 500 words today,” I can do that. I can do that quite easily. They won’t be 500 words that I like, or that I want to keep, or that lead to the next 500 words. It’s an assignment I can tick off, but it’s not a helpful assignment, so no.
The idea has to be there from the beginning—
The idea has to be there. Some idea has to be there. Any idea. It doesn’t have to be a full idea for a full book. It might be an idea for a scene, or a paragraph, or a sentence, but something more solid has to be there.
Interview with Karen Joy Fowler, July 2022