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What time of day do you like to write?
Do you set yourself a time limit? Or do you try to reach a specific word count?
I try to write new fiction for three hours a day. I can work longer on editing or on a piece of nonfiction. I don’t set a word count: it seems okay to me that some days yield nothing and some yield several pages.
Do you need quiet to write? Or do you need music?
What is your number one procrastination tool? Just kidding! It's the Internet, right? Of course it is. So, specifically, what on the Internet is your own personal black hole?
It’s text messaging, actually. If only I were a fourteen-year-old Japanese girl, I would be writing brilliant novels in my favorite form.
What do you do to break out of a bout of writer's block? Please share any and all tricks.
I try to keep writing even if I know it’s doomed: sometimes you can write your way into something better. Great novels (especially long ones) are the best consolation, a reminder of why you do this in the first place. And I believe in the power of dark chocolate—the kind with a cocoa content of at least 70%.
Who is the first person you share your writing with and why do you turn to her or him?
When I want love and affirmation (the first draft) I go to my husband or my sister. Later, when I want the cold, hard truth, I go to David Bezmozgis. I’m a great admirer of his writing, and we have a similar sensibility; he also tells it like it is. A rave review from him is something like, “Nell, I wouldn’t throw all of this away.”
What is one "rule" that you follow as a writer? Writers always seem to be coming up with lists of rules. Or are you not into rules? Maybe you're not into lists? Let us know!
My major rule is the three-hour-a-day rule, which I stuck to religiously until I had kids. Now I make plenty of exceptions—but I feel guilty about them.
Do you compulsively edit as you write? Or do you write a lot and go back and then cringe at how many times you repeat the same word over and over? Which, what is that word?
I compulsively edit and also cringe. My word, depressingly, is “little.”
What is the best advice you've ever received about writing?
It came from the writer and editor Bill Buford. He said, “I like that this guy is a bachelor, but I think he should be married.” Which is to say—remember that you can do anything. You can change anything, and people are full of contradictions. I think Bill was saying something essential about characterization when he demanded that married bachelor.