Posted in Writing

5 Quotes by Michael Chabon to Make You a Better Writer

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Michael Chabon (born in 1963) is an acclaimed author of many great books such as The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Wonder Boys, and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, which won the Pulitzer Prize.

Here are five terrific quotes he has shared over the years that will help you with your writing!

1. Ideas are the easy part. I spend a lot of time batting them away, trying to keep them from distracting me from what I actually have to focus on and finish. A lot of times, they are a siren temptress beckoning me with the promise of a much shorter, simpler, more slender novel over the horizon, but of course that’s very dangerous.

Ideas are the easy part, sure, especially when they come to you out of the blue, but for me, getting the idea and ruminating on the idea are two of my favorite parts about the writing process. Because it all starts with an initial image, or a character, or a concept, and then over many weeks and months (or even years) you let the idea blossom into something that resembles a complete story of some kind.

Michael Chabon is right however that sometimes ideas can be annoying as well, especially when you’re in the middle of a new writing project and an idea for another story is distracting you from what you’re currently working on. That’s definitely happened to me before many, many times. The danger in this is focusing on that other idea, rather than the idea you’re currently invested in. As long as you keep ideas coming but only focus on one idea at a time in your writing life, you should be good.

2. I found one remaining box of comics which I had saved. When I opened it up and that smell came pouring out, that old paper smell, I was struck by a rush of memories, a sense of my childhood self that seemed to be contained in there.

Oh, do I know this feeling. On a recent trip to my parents’ house I discovered in one of the closets an old box of Dr. Seuss books, my Dr. Seuss books when I was a child. Smelling the books took me back to such a simpler time in the late 1980s, when all I wanted to do was read, read, read all day.

I think whenever you’re stuck on what to write next, there are worse things you could do than open up an old book you cherish, whether it’s your own worn copy from childhood or a new copy you just picked up at the bookstore or library, and read through a few pages. Inspiration can strike at the most unlikely of times, and anything that brings up old, cherished memories can sometimes make for amazing ideas in the now.

3. I abandoned my second novel completely. Writing Kavalier & Clay, I had several moments of utter collapse. Same with The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.

It always brings me a sense of relief when I read about a celebrated author who has struggled deeply in his or her writing life. You look at someone like Michael Chabon and you think he’s so talented that he probably never has a bad writing day. To hear that his second novel was completely abandoned, and that his book that eventually won the Pulitzer Prize gave Chabon moments of utter collapse, makes me remember that writing is never easy for anybody. Whether you’re an unpublished author or a published author.

And this quote is also a reminder that you should keep going in your latest project even if it’s hard. Chabon might have abandoned that second project for good reason, but what if he had abandoned Kavalier & Clay? What if 300 pages in, 400 pages in, he said screw this, nobody will care, this book will never go anywhere. Sometimes you just don’t know.

So the best thing you can do, at least in the beginning, is finish the first draft of whatever you’re writing. If many revisions later, the book doesn’t work, and you feel like chucking it, that’s a choice you’ll need to make. But at least give the project a chance.

4. I work at night, starting at around 10 o’clock and working until 2 or 3 in the morning. I do that usually five days a week. In Berkeley, I have an office behind our house that I share with my wife, who works more in the daytime.

I wrote my first three novels late at night, and then I started writing in the morning and found myself much healthier and happier and having better days when I composed between 9am and 1pm rather than 9pm and 1am. But as I’ve said often before, to each his own. Chabon apparently is a night writer, and that works for him, so great!

If you prefer to write at night, if that’s the one part of your day where you have peace and quiet, then by all means, write at night. Hell, I might even try to write a novel again at night in the future, especially if a full-time job forces me to do so. What it comes down to is this: what’s the time of day you know you can write for at least a little bit not a few times a week but every day of the week (or at least five days a week)? Find that time, and commit to it like daily exercise.

5. Nothing ever comes out the way I hope it will. That first vision, that initial vision you have of a book, what it’s going to be like when it’s done, it begins to go wrong the second you start to write.

Oh, man, this quote smacked me in the gut, mostly because I’m starting a new novel project this coming Monday. I have so many ideas floating around my head, and I know that it’s very well possible I can nail this particular novel if I can just put my entire vision on the page in a way that works, and I also know it’s very well possible this new novel could be a total trainwreck if I’m not able to find the right tone and rhythm from the start.

The thing is that most novels don’t necessarily go the way you envision. Those ideas you have today might end up somewhere in the finished book months or years down the road, but especially once you begin revising and taking into account outside feedback, the story always changes a lot. The vision I had for my MFA thesis novel in 2017 barely resembles what that book is now currently in its tenth draft. And that’s OK!

Don’t panic if the book doesn’t turn out the way you hoped it will. Don’t panic if the book barely matches your initial idea of what it could be. Whether the process goes in a bad way or a good way or a great way, just remember that it’s way more important that you wrote the story in the first place than merely thought about it. The fact that you made the thing is what truly counts.

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