Thursday, February 23, 2012

Five Questions About Writing

Some of the most encouraging mail I get is from readers and fellow writers asking about my process. If you’ve read the BM’s for long, you know I hang my writing process out there. I like to share my failures, successes and insights. If everyone was candid about their processes, the whole field would benefit. Recently an aspiring writer sent me five questions in researching artists for her own book. These are the answers I gave her. Please consider fielding these questions on your own blogs.

1. what inspired you to be a writer?
-I loved storytelling from my earliest years, so I was always open to it. The big shift came when I was bedridden with health problems at age 13. There were many long and excruciating nights when reading or listening to audiobooks literally gave me the will to live to morning. The desire to make it to the next page, and to find out what happened next, was vital. A sense of gratitude to the form definitely shaped my desire to become a writer.

2. what is love according to you?
-Love is a lasting condition in one person toward another person, creature or object, recognizable by frequent supportive concerns for their various well-beings, including but not limited to medical, financial, artistic and spiritual well-beings. These concerns can be positive, such as the joy that my sister just got a new job. These concerns must be strong enough to act upon; if you won't do things for others, then you don't love them. Love can be familial, romantic or friendly. Most of my passionate loves have not been erotic, but simply friendship.

3. what are your writings to you?
-They are my beloved creations, little different to me than the world would be to God. I must do right by them, be honest with them, let them play themselves out, and never interfere so much that their experience is compromised. While I write some veins of satire and social commentary, I never let such influences overtake the sanctity of the work itself.

4. how will you define yourself as an artist?
-Experientially. There is too much complexity and emergence in writing copious prose for me to prescribe a singular meaning to all my work, at least at this stage in my career. If there is a summary, it’s that I define myself as I ponder, compose and edit. The prescriptive definitions will always come in second, even when they’d be more convenient.

5. what do you think are the qualities in you which others do not have. and because of which you can write?
-There’s a temptation to say I’m crazy, or goofier than average, and so am more inclined to write jokes about Noah’s Ark and giant plants throwing rooms at people. But really? It’s a couple of decades of critical thinking about, and practice focusing on, how my prose works. Experience sets most forms of expertise apart from the hobbyists and layfolk; I think most people could become just as competent in their own ways if they wrote and read as much and with as much scrutiny. The love of language, of style and structure, and an appreciation for pleasing elements largely came through experience. Most of my other traits influence what and how I write more than that I can write at all. For instance, my neuromuscular syndrome saps my energy, puts me in constant pain, and has limited some of my social interactions, so I look at healthy people as pathetic or crazy. That’s spurred me to write, but is it why I write, or simply why I depict people certain ways? Perhaps my only other significant quality is that I know enough about the world as people see it, and enough about what’s occurred in fiction, to be able to freely express my thoughts in prose in ways that seem creative because I have a certain grip on those two things.


  1. I'm not sure how I'd answer these. A very insightful post, John, thanks.

  2. Like Tony said.
    These are great questions and I appreciate your honest, heartfelt answers.

  3. Also, just giggled over your BMs... because I'm 12.

  4. And thanks again for getting rid of those captcha-thingies --- now I can comment at will... woo HOOO!

  5. AS my own chronic disease begins to make a comeback tour, the only thing I'm looking forward to is having more time to write.

  6. I once worked with a woman who had a stroke. Afterwards she discovered that her ability to read and write (and to relearn the skills) was gone. I thought then, and still think that it is the cruellest stroke manifestation I have heard about.
    My own neurological illness does mostly allow me to read, and I would be lost without it.
    Thank you for your honesty in this post.

  7. I answered these questions on my blog as well. Perhaps with as not as much insight, but its something ;)

  8. I think this is something that each writer should at least answer for themselves, whether they choose to share or not.

  9. Very insightful. Thank you for sharing your motivations and some of your process.

  10. Normally when I see a post about writing advice I immediately skip it and go and do something else.

    But then I realised it wasn't one of *those* posts. This felt more like a cool way to get to know you and I enjoyed that a lot. Thanks.


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