"So look. Here’s the thing about writing. Some people think it’s magical, some people think it’s a job. I think it’s a magical job. It’s a job in that I have to go to it every day, and sit at a computer, and enter data. It’s hard and I’m not always inspired and sometimes I really just want to play video games and eat cake and never think about narrative structure again. And sometimes it’s not even the fun part of making things up, but the copyediting and admin and correspondence and total breakdown level exhaustion after months on tour. It is more than a full time job, and even though it is an amazing job, there is nothing particularly mystical about being a writer over, say, being a programmer.
But on the other hand, it is kind of magical. Like trauma, I’m convinced there’s some chemical release that erases the knowledge of how I ever managed to write a book as soon as I’ve finished it. Things just drop into your head without warning and the story seems to take on its own life. For me it’s a combination of playing a complex game, casting a spell, and solving a puzzle in which many pieces fit correctly but only one makes the right picture. We all come up with metaphors about writing and compare it to other tasks because even as writers we’re constantly trying to understand it. We talk about muses and characters sprinting off on their own recognizance and channeling inspiration (ok, other people do. I get hives when those conversations spring up) because a lot of times we don’t have a good explanation for where ideas come from, or why the story needed to go in just that way, or why on Tuesday nothing happened and at least one eyeball actually wept blood while staring at a blank screen and on Wednesday a whole story just fell out and was amazing. Why stuff that seemed phenomenally, brain-sizzlingly awesome last night is crap this morning, and what seemed like cold garbage when you finished writing it is actually pretty good when you make your editing pass. It’s all weird stuff, and like most groups who suffer from low personal power and random reinforcement, we get superstitious and start churning out odd folklore.
And then you slap down your most personal obsessions and best guesses and terrors and longings and it gets mass-reproduced and a whole bunch of people (hopefully) read it and then you have to look them in the eye at readings and signings and conventions and try to black out what they know about your past, your future, how you want the world to be and what you love so that you can have a normal conversation, so that you can try to be the better self that sometimes, on really good days, goes into the work. It’s not exactly normal, this thing we do. But there is a reason that so many people want to do it, and that reason is because it is awesome. Sometimes I realize the awful truth that being a writer is exactly as amazing and magical as I thought it would be when I was a kid and that’s really a bit terrifying.
Almost every writer I know has at one time or another said they felt they were Doing It Wrong and there had to be an easier/faster/slower/better/less stressful/better tasting way to write a book. Not just the standard long dark teatime of the middle third of the novel where we pretty much all think we’re terrible at this and should be strung up for the imposters we are, but that the method by which we accomplish books is the wrong one.
The truth is, if there’s a finished book at the end of it, it’s the right way to write a book. I say that having just stayed up all night for the second time this week to finish something, which I always tell myself is stupid, and I am stupid, and I am not in college and why couldn’t I do it during the day like a non-vampire? But it’s never been a realistic expectation of myself not to write things the way I have always written them, which is to say all in one go, usually late at night, pushing through because if I don’t stop I can’t doubt myself. It’s part of who I am as a writer, and however you write is part of who you are, too.
I don’t really think I’m any kind of expert at this, which is a scary thing to say on the Internet where No One Is Wrong. I think there has to be an easier and better way to write a book than I do, too. When interviewers ask me for advice for young writers I usually punt and say: read everything. And that’s completely true, you do have to read everything, as much as possible, to even hope to take a swing at writing, and if that sounds like too much work you probably should take up another hobby. But it’s also an easy answer, because all the other ones are hard and often contradictory, like avoid cliche but also give your reader something familiar to stand on. Be radically sincere. Be in love with the world because the world is this amazing place, the present and past no less than the future and you live in it and your job is to translate it and rephrase it and turn it on its head so that other people can see it the way you do, the way it might be, or almost was, or never could be but still, somehow, is true. Don’t hold anything back because you never know when you’ll get another contract, but at the same time cultivate calm, and realize that you probably will if you got the first one, and don’t throw the kitchen sink at it. You must be at least this passionate and driven and obsessive and committed and joyful about the minutia of literature to ride this ride. Write as fast as you can because someday you’ll die and if you didn’t tell all the stories you had in you it will hurt. (No one believes me when I say this is the exact and honest reason that I have written so many books while being so young. I tell them: I’m going to die soon. I have to write faster. I only have fifty years or so left if I’m lucky. That’s not enough time. They laugh, and I’m not joking.)"