Does Writing Advice Work for You?
By Katrin Schumann
Do you hole up in near seclusion like Jonathan Franzen to create your opus? Do you use social media for ideas and encouragement? Do you read fiction while you write fiction? Where do you find your inspiration and your will to carry on in spite of the self-doubt? Do you search for answers in what other fiction writers do?
Ultimately, the only thing that matters is what works for you.
Writers all have their own special tics and tricks to get them going. What I discovered a while ago is that they're not very helpful to me. Connecting with other artists is great: workshops really work; editors are priceless; twitter shines a bright light into the dark recesses of writers' brains, and that is often cool. But this advice-taking can sometimes kill off the terrifyingly gimp baby that is our emerging work.
So, rather than worry about how others do it, I've embraced my own helter skelter way of producing material. When I write non-fiction, I'm a well-oiled machine that manically devours deadlines, goals, feedback, and research. The mandate drives me. For me, fiction is an entirely different story.
Over the years I've learned that there's immense value in all my apparently meaningless meandering. I read across genres, watch TV, go to the movies and galleries etc etc. Am I procrastinating? Maybe, if you judge by my total word count. But not really. It's a process, if perhaps a messy one; I'm gathering up critical supplies for my death-defying trek into the wilderness. I'm embarking on an insane quest, and without those supplies, I'd be lost.
Thoughts about fiction writing that you are welcome to ignore:
1) Setting a daily word count minimum is like self mortification for some of us. Don't we writers already suffer enough?
2) Watching TV counts as research. Studies say it does, so it must be true. Right?
3) Talking in detail about your novel does NOT count as work, and is typically not productive.
4) For some, social media is an excellent way to drain all the creativity from your body. (A bit like leeching, which was supposed to help you but ended up killing you.)
6) Hang on to the joy of discovery and effort that is part and parcel of the writing process. Once you've lost the joy, stop writing for a while.
Katrin Schumann is the author of The Forgotten Hours (Lake Union, 2019), a Washington Post bestseller; This Terrible Beauty, a novel about the collision of love, art and politics in 1950s East Germany (March, 2020); and numerous nonfiction titles. She is the program coordinator of the Key West Literary Seminar. For the past ten years she has been teaching writing, most recently at GrubStreet and in the MA prison system, through PEN New England. Before going freelance, she worked at NPR, where she won the Kogan Media Award. Katrin has been granted multiple fiction residencies. Her work has been featured on TODAY, Talk of the Nation, and in The London Times, as well as other national and international media outlets, and she has a regular column on GrubWrites. Katrin can also be found at katrinschumann.com, and on Twitter and Instagram: @katrinschumann.See other articles by Katrin Schumann