Writing Advice from Rachel Yoder: Take a Break, Hug a Tree
“Maybe not writing now is actually success.”
Rachel Yoder’s Nightbitch is out now in paperback from Anchor, so we asked about her favorite books and methods of procrastination.
How do you tackle writer’s block?
Gotta say I haven’t really been tackling writer’s block so much lately as I have been submitting fully to it. I don’t think I could possibly “tackle” anything right now. Maybe right now isn’t the time to write? Maybe I need a break? Maybe I need to take my kid to the pool or watch a movie with my husband or nap? I got very sick the week after my book came out in 2021, and I’ve been sick ever since, so I guess my approach to writer’s block now is to not worry about it too much. I am exhausted by the state of the world and I’m not going to exhaust myself more by freaking out that I’m not writing. This answer isn’t that great of an answer—it’s too pessimistic—but I’m also going to allow myself this pessimism, just for now. How’s everyone doing? I hope you’re treating yourselves well today. Take the gentle path.
I do, every day, feel bad that I haven’t been writing, but I am fighting that sense of failure. I’m trying to define success and failure on my own terms these days. Maybe not writing now is actually success, in terms of taking care of myself and my health and my family? Maybe I get to practice not judging myself in this season of not writing, and that’s the actual lesson, rather than figuring out how to bully myself into harder work?
What book has elicited the most intense emotional reaction from you (made you laugh, cry, be angry)?
The only books that have ever made me cry—sob, really—are by Miriam Toews: All My Puny Sorrows and Fight Night. They also made me laugh. We share a Mennonite background, so reading her books sort of feels like carving myself up with a knife, but in the best way possible.
What is your favorite book to give as a gift?
I recently bought two copies of Eve Babitz’s Slow Days, Fast Company to give away, so I guess that’s my favorite book to give as a gift at the moment. The book is about being young and smart and reckless and free and glamorous. It’s a great book to read in midlife to remind yourself that you used to—and can still—burn.
What is your favorite way to procrastinate when you are meant to be writing?
I go outside and say hello to all my flowers and plants and sometimes if I’m lucky we have conversations. As it turns out, daisies seem superficial but are actually quite philosophical. And trees. Trees! Spend some focused, quality time with a tree and you’ll see what I mean. I hugged one the other day and its steadfastness, its strength, its certainty, its deep connection to the earth and then also to the sky—maybe a tree should be the president? I was about to write that I’ve become fairly unhinged during/since the pandemic, but that’s not true; I think I’ve actually gotten way more grounded, and talking to flowers and pondering a tree president are positive outcomes of this new and utterly sane perspective.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you do instead?
I’d either be an aesthetician or a pre-school teacher. As an aesthetician, I would find great pleasure in cleaning pores. As for the pre-school teacher thing—I’ve found in motherhood that I understand very small children maybe better than I understand anyone. Their philosophy makes sense to me: Here for it, every moment, nothing past, nothing future, just straight-ahead aaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh! A four-year old’s ability to play with, say, a casserole dish full of buttons and a serving spoon for like a half hour is extraordinary, and I think I have a lot to learn from that kind of person.
Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder is available from Anchor