The Value of Leisurely Cross-Pollination

Do you hole up in near seclusion to create your opus? Do you tweet madly 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've discovered recently is that I no longer want to hear about them. I'm done with hearing that setting a timer works wonders, or yelling out affirmations, or cranking out 10,000 words in a sitting, or meticulously planning each scene, or totally winging it. Done.

Connecting with other artists is great, don't get me wrong. Workshops really work. Editors are priceless. Twitter shines a bright light into the dark recesses of novelists' brains, and that is often cool. But it can also kill off the terrifyingly gimp baby that is our emerging work.

So, rather than worry about how others do it, I'm embracing my own helter skelter way of producing material. When I write non-fiction, I'm a well-oiled machine that manically, gleefully even, devours deadlines, goals, feedback, and research. The mandate drives me. Fiction? It's an entirely different story.

When I hold a gun to my head--trying to take a more direct path to words on the page--I end up sabotaging myself by pulling the trigger. The day I gave myself a daily word count goal for my novel is the day I stopped writing. Call me rebellious, if you will, but rebelling against myself?

Over the years I've learned that there's immense value in cross-pollination, in all my apparently meaningless meandering. There's a method to my madness, and I'm going with it.

On any given day, there’s an immense and colorful collage of informational detritus that collects in my brain. I seem to be drawn instinctively to what I need. In the past month I’ve read Lionel Shriver’s THE POST BIRTHDAY WORLD; Sue Miller’s THE GOOD MOTHER; the screenplay of CRASH; Blake Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT!; Anthony Wolf’s GET OUT OF MY LIFE, But First Will You Take Me and Cheryl to the Mall?; Martha Stout’s THE SOCIOPATH NEXT DOOR, blog posts by the brilliant Penelope Trunk (especially ones on sexual harassment). I've watched this riveting YouTube video and perused this hilarious site (though I haven't yet figured out how blackface elves feature in my book). Oh yeah, and I’ve read 28 days worth of New York Times articles. Recently, I came across this pivotal one about teaching teens how to have good sex. Not to mention, I've watched some great movies (and some so-bad-it's-fab TV).

Am I procrastinating? Yes, if you judge by my total word count.

But, no. 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 a goner.

Thoughts about fiction writing that you are welcome to ignore:

1) Setting a daily word count minimum is akin to self mortification for a lot of us. Don't we writers already suffer enough? I mean, really.

2) Watching TV counts as research. Studies say it does, so it must be true. Right?

3) Talking ad nauseum and in detail about your novel does NOT count as work, and is typically not productive. I'm remaining mum.

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.)

5) Figuring out why you write is more important than how you write. Unless you are very clear and honest about your motivations, the journey will quickly become draining.

6) Writers are pig-headed. I say follow your own path, pig-headedly.

May the Force be with you,



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About the Author

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, and on Twitter and Instagram: @katrinschumann.

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