“I had no idea what I was doing most of the time I was writing this book. I’m frankly shocked that I managed to write a book with ‘propulsive tension.’ It definitely didn’t come easily. Most of what I write starts with a premise. I love a strange or unsettling premise, love the words what if.”
—Miciah Bay Gault, on her debut novel, Goodnight Stranger, featured in “First Fiction 2019″ in the July/August issue of Poets & Writers Magazine
I had a blast writing the first draft…and just let myself take risks and go down rabbit holes, but in the revision, I had to really reign it in and flesh it out….Write the shitty first draft. A finished story is better than a perfect story that just lives in your mind.
Something that keeps me going when I get stuck in my writing is getting the hell out of the house. I take walks, very late at night, around the lake that sits nearby. It’s quiet—just me and all the nocturnal animals, many mosquitoes, and my sweaty beer—and I’ll stroll and listen to the cicadas shriek. It’s good to look around at all that expansive beauty and wonder about the largeness of the planet: I’m such a small thing, just one of many creatures.
I try to write every day. If that isn’t possible—since we’re human and we need breathers—I read, watch television, and spend time with my loved ones. I find that the majority of my inspiration comes from just living my life, so I take my non-writing time as seriously as I do my writing.
Knowing that writing is a process more than it is talent eases most of my anxieties when the words just aren’t there. Baldwin once said, ‘Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but most of all, endurance.’ Because of this, I keep going back to the blank pages.
Anne Lamott said something along the lines of ‘write a shitty first draft.’ This is the only way I can summon the courage to write anything. I am human and flawed and this is never more evident than when I see it spelled out in my words on a screen or a sheet of paper. But as bad as that first draft may be—and sometimes it’s not as bad as my first impression of it is—I have a chance to make it better one day at a time. That is the craft. That is what makes a writer: the willingness to rewrite a thousand times if necessary.
When working on a novel, I write every day, 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM, following very strict routines: starting and finishing at the same time, and aiming to get a certain quota of work done. Over time I’ve developed a Pavlovian response to my rituals: When I take the first sip of coffee at 8:00 AM, my brain flips a switch and I’m in writing mode.
When I was revising…there were two nights…where I drank a little gin, listened to nineties hip-hop, and I danced as I wrote and rewrote. I broke night with my poems. In other words, you have to hang out with your book, especially if your book is becoming a living thing.
When I find myself in the writing weeds, I have finally learned to pay attention to the warning signs: Stop. Go back. Do not push farther in. I resist the urge to soldier on, to muddle through, to fix a line here or there, to delete whole paragraphs that make no sense at that moment, to get to the end of the page….I give in. I nap. Conk out. Let sleep’s hammer fall. Writers write, we’re told endlessly. Yes, but writers must also stop….You only grow when you are lying down. Lie down—the body knits its own plots.
I’m writing a novel, and have been for over a decade. I’ve had periods of great productivity, days when one thousand-word quotas turn into four thousand words….But working on a singular project for years isn’t easy. Some days the writing rushes like the Rio Grande, and sometimes, weeks, months, or even years pass, and my pages don’t budge. Instead, they buck against my will. When those days arrive, I refuel my well, the headwaters supplying my creative stream. I visit historic archives and museums, galleries and art shows, movies and talks….