Jumping Jacks and Minute Historical Details Don’t Get the Writing Done, and Other Advice

Sherman Alexie writes poetry, short stories, novels for adults, novels for teens–and does all of this really well. So when he shares his advice for writers, we should probably all listen up. A couple of points I like in particular:

7. Don’t have any writing ceremonies. They’re just a way to stop you from writing.

At first I thought he meant ceremonies like the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony, and I thought “Man, that’s harsh.” But then I realized he means those silly things we think help us write, like having the right mug for your coffee or sitting beside a window or doing jumping jacks. Maybe those help get you in the right frame of mind, but they’re not what gets the writing done. You get the writing done. So write.

4. In fiction, research is overrated. But that means readers will write you correcting all of your minor biographical, geographical and historical errors. If you like, make those corrections in the paperback, but don’t sweat it too much.

This is actually a big relief. I tend to get worried about the “real” stuff in novels–what if someone is offended by my lack of authenticity about 17th century merchant ships? Unless your book is majorly about 17th century merchant ships, no one really cares if you miss a detail or two. As long as the characters are real and you don’t make any ridiculous mistakes (“When did Mars start being the closest planet to the sun?”), I’ll keep reading.

Make sure to click through for the rest of Alexie’s suggestions.

2 thoughts on “Jumping Jacks and Minute Historical Details Don’t Get the Writing Done, and Other Advice

  1. I have to admit that I’m pretty anal about my details because I was a history major. But my trick for not getting sucked into things like Runicman’s three-volume set on the Crusades is to write the story first, then go back and fact check.

    If I’m interested in something enough to write about it, I usually have a decent amount of knowledge about it beforehand. And that’s almost always enough to get started with. Then, as I’m writing, and I find I need to know what the unit of currency was in 14th century Bohemia, I stop and look it up. That way, instead of spending loads of time reading about all sorts of things I might not use, I only look up exactly what I need.

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