Andre Dubus III Beats Writer’s Block By Asking the Right Questions
The Author of Such Kindness Answers the Lit Hub Questionnaire
Andre Dubus III’s Such Kindness is out today from Norton, so we asked him a few questions about writer’s block, the books that elicit the biggest reactions from him, and more.
What time of day do you write?
I prefer to write in the mornings, which I do five days a week. (I like to take two days off to let the well refill…) Irish writer, Edna O’Brien, says that she likes to write in the mornings because that way she goes from the dream world to the dream world. I agree.
How do you tackle writer’s block?
I believe that true writer’s block is very rare, and we tend to use that phrase to simply describe when our writing isn’t going well, those awful days when nothing comes and we find ourselves staring at the page and feeling little. When this happens to me with something I’m working on, it tends to be for one of two reasons: I’ve written a false or contrived moment and have not yet seen or accepted this yet, or I’m just not being curious enough about my character and her or his or their particular situation.
Once I begin to start asking basic and sincere questions again (What time of year is it? What’s the weather like? How does she make a living? When’s the last time she ate and what was it? Was her childhood a happy one? etc.) then the story’s heart begins to beat again.
What book has elicited the most intense emotional reaction from you?
My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. It is perhaps the most emotionally naked novel I’ve ever read. I also have to mention Preparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish.
Which non-literary piece of culture—film, tv show, painting, song—could you not imagine your life without?
Music, music, music. I write longhand in composition notebooks, and every morning I begin my writing session first by reading a few poems, then I put on some music and type the previous day’s handwriting into my computer.
I listen to what I know will take me to a deeper, more reflective place: Neil Young, Ben Webster, John Coltrane, Phoebe Bridgers, Angel Olsen, Miles Davis, some acoustic Bruce Springsteen, Lucinda Williams, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, Leonard Cohen, Brandi Carlisle, Eddie Vedder, Lana Dey Ray, Amy Winehouse, Bon Dylan, Mozart, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, The Killers, etc.
What is your favorite way to procrastinate when you are meant to be writing?
I think I’m being honest when I say that I just don’t procrastinate when I’m meant to be writing, and I rarely, if ever, have; but there are many mornings when I sure as hell don’t feel like writing, especially if I’m working on what feels like a pivotal moment in the story or novel, one that I know will demand all of my focus and all of my attention and whatever skills and or writing tools I can bring to the task. This can feel more than intimidating, and I’m often tempted to pour more coffee and watch more morning news.
But I don’t do that, and I don’t put off my writing because then I’d feel even worse about it all. I don’t judge any writer who does procrastinate in some way either, but I sometimes wonder if writers who tend to procrastinate are doing so because their writing is no longer making them feel what they’d like to feel.
But it isn’t about the writer, is it? If I want to feel good, I’ll workout or cook my family a hot meal or work on my house.
Such Kindness by Andre Dubus III is available via Norton.