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I love listening to authors talk about writing. Ever since the first time I bought one of those annual compendiums of advice from authors, along with lists of places to publish — complete with addresses, what they look for and what you could expect to be paid — very little has pleased me more than to sit down with an essay by an author (and it doesn’t matter whether I’ve read or even heard of the author, what matters is that the author is interesting) about what it takes to do what he or she does.

That’s because even though I have been erratic about writing myself, these people are my people — I know what they’re talking about when they talk about blocks, or desire or crippling self-doubt (though to be fair they rarely talk about that part in these feel-good pieces). They give me hope that I could do it too, which I guess is the point, to encourage people to write. Honestly, sometimes I think I’d be happy never to write another word as long as I could be surrounded by interesting people talking about books and writing. I’d just drink it all in, happy to be part of the crowd.

Maria Popova at brainpickings.org has written this essay about things Susan Sontag had to say about writing, some of which I find quite compelling. For example: “To write is to know something. What a pleasure to read a writer who knows a great deal. (Not a common experience these days…) Literature, I would argue, is knowledge — albeit, even at its greatest, imperfect knowledge. Like all knowledge.”

Part of my own crippling self-doubt is the fear that I don’t know enough to write a book. That I haven’t read enough, haven’t thought enough, that my thinking is too pedestrian to produce a really good novel. I’ll guess we’ll see about that, won’t we?

Popova also quotes Sontag as saying, “Every fictional plot contains hints and traces of the stories it has excluded or resisted in order to assume its present shape. Alternatives to the plot ought to be felt up to the last moment. These alternatives constitute the potential for disorder (and therefore of suspense) in the story’s unfolding.”

This rings so true for my WIP. I thought I had come up with a fairly interesting sub-plot (because all novels need sub-plots, right?) and have been gently discouraged from giving it all the air I think it should have. In my relaunch I’m keeping it as a bit of background noise, but may, as the story goes along, make it the central focus. I haven’t decided. May not decide until the last minute. It would be an entirely different book that way. That’s part of the rush, not knowing.

 

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