Welcome to issue three of On Writing, a fortnightly collection of writing advice I’ve found from across the internet.
I read a lot of writers talking about writing and I listen to a lot of podcasts about writing and I thought, why not share the love a little with these short links for you. I hope it’s of interest to you. I plan to keep this newsletter free but will be dropping in links to where you can support me and my work, if any of this resonates. Any links to buy books will be through my affiliate link at bookshop.org. Obviously buy your books wherever is easiest for you or get them from the library, but bookshop.org does give a chunk of every sale to independent bookshops and a small commission to affiliates like me.
1) Amina Cain on Terrible Drafts
I just finished Amina Cain’s beautiful, haunting novel, Indelicacy and while reading about her, stumbled across this great interview. There’s a lot to digest about art, death, writing. But I liked this about drafting, in particular:
“Those drafts were terrible because I was trying to close in on something (the events that would lead to the end of the novel), rather than open something up. I’m not saying that writing towards an ending has to equal a closing down, but somehow that’s what I was doing. In one of the drafts I killed off one of my characters. I am embarrassed to admit that, because I think I wrote it as a total cliché. I mean, at the time I thought of it as a challenge to try to do something like that, that it was important for me as a writer to be able to write a fundamental truth of life such as death, but it was just so flimsy, and completely contrived. Maybe in another book I will be able to do it in a way that feels authentic. Or maybe I will never write of death again.
“I addressed each terrible draft by getting rid of everything I had written that didn’t feel true, that seemed to try to force a certain kind of feeling or reading, and just tried to live in the space of the novel again, the part of it that still contained possibility and openness.”
2) Hanif Abdurraqib on Being Present In The World
Hanif Abdurraqib is one of my favourite writers and I’ve been obsessively re-reading bits of his new book A Little Devil In America and listening to season 1 of his new music podcast, Object Of Sound, recently. I came across this Spine interview where he’s talking about writing the poems in his collection, A Fortune For Your Disaster and how they start externally.
“My best writing is done in full contact with the world around me,” Abdurraqib told Spine. “I do my best writing driving through a changing landscape, or on a treadmill looking at the same repetitive background. Or walking my dog at night. That’s me sitting down to write the poem...I try to be observant of my own feelings and how they move throughout the world.
“From there, it’s not only about examining the feelings and getting words down, but it’s about figuring out what’s the story beneath the story...if a poem is pushing me towards sadness, I think about the other side of sadness...the larger emotion itself is the easiest, but isn’t the most fulfilling always.”
3) Jade Sharma on publication day
Problems by Jade Sharma is probably one of my favourite novels, so funny and dark and vulnerable and brilliantly written. Her death, a few years ago, was such a huge loss to the world. Her voice is truly missed. I’ve been thinking about her recently and I remembered this piece she wrote for LitHub on how publication day for her was one of the worst days of her life. I think I’d post it here: The Terrible, No Good, Bad Day I Woke Up As A Debut Author
“I feel anxiety because it’s been well received in this nice little comforting world, but now it’s going to the masses, like, those assholes on Amazon where they just write stuff like, “Total garbage.” And then I feel guilty because these aren’t real problems. You know how many people don’t get published and want to? Like that’s their dream? And I’m bitching about it? All I do is think about the second one. Every day I feel guilty that I’m not working harder. And I still borrow money. I don’t have kids. I have nothing. I just have this book and my boyfriend and one day he’s going to get sick of someone who can’t get out of bed or who won’t stop crying.”
Find Problems by Jade Sharma. It’s a real classic and deserves a much-wider readership.
Okay that’s enough from me. I’ll drop into your inbox in a few weeks with another one of these. If you like this newsletter, please share with your writing friends; please buy some of the books mentioned; please subscribe; please support my work, either by buying one of my books https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/my-stuff or by buying me a coffee through this nifty site: https://ko-fi.com/nikeshshukla