How important were college creative-writing courses to your success?—Alberto, Washington

I’m sure that the right teacher, in a well-designed course, can be a great help to beginning writers who are trying to find their way, but I have no personal experience of that. I found my own way by doing two things. First, I read 150 books a year, sometimes more, (very little TV, later no blogging, no e-mail, that’s how), fiction in all genres, contemporary novels but also the classics, poetry, and a variety of nonfiction. Second, I revise every page of a novel twenty or thirty times, whatever it takes, before moving on to the next page. This line-by-line immersion focuses me intently on language, character, and theme. I began this ceaseless polishing out of self-doubt, as a way of preventing self-doubt from turning into writer’s block: by doing something with the unsatisfactory page, I wasn’t just sitting there brooding about it. I have more self-doubt than any writer I know, which seems healthy to me, and now this method of working, this line-by-line immersion, no longer seems arduous; instead, it delights me. While my conscious mind is on the micro world of a single page, my unconscious is always working on the macro world of the entire novel.

Posted on: May 19, 2010

Sign up for Dean's free newsletter and for news, previews, and more!