Last week I mentioned I had the pleasure of snagging an ARC of John Fox's new book The Linchpin Writer: Crafting Your Novel's Key Moments, and it really is unlike the other books on writing out there. You can read my full review here, but it's a welcome addition to any writer's bookshelf, in my humble opinion (and I've read A LOT of craft books, y'all).
So I'm thrilled that John was willing to answer a few questions I had post-reading.
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You explain what a linchpin is at the start of your book, and I've heard the term applied to people in the business world or in a community--someone who is vital to an operation--but I've never really thought about being a linchpin from a writer's or a writing standpoint. What made you choose this angle for your book?
I'd been doing developmental editing on novels for years and I realized that I kept on giving advice about the same sections of their books. And I realized the pattern held across a large number of novels, that writers struggled to write the most pivotal scenes in their book. And if they messed up on those scenes, there was an excellent chance that the reader wouldn't connect with the book as strongly. So I wanted to write a book helping as many writers as possible with those crucial parts of their story.
That's awesome. I teach undergrads on the daily, so I totally understand those patterns that show up again and again in feedback. What would you say you enjoy most about the writing process?
I remember that Jonathan Safran Foer once said that if he wasn't a writer, he would have become a builder. And I understood that comment. Writing is simply building with words. Slap some mortar of verbs, put on a brick of a noun, build an object that's tall or thick or beautiful.
Oh, I LOVE that metaphor!
Yeah, so I love the building aspect of writing, the feeling of constructing a narrative. And so really, my favorite part of writing is the imagination. Of designing characters so they feel unlike everyone else, of designing a world that feels different from ours and yet similar, of designing a plot that isn't hackneyed and ready-made, but feels original and wild.
I might not be the best prose stylist in the world, but I sure do write stories that nobody else has put on the page.
I haven't read your fiction (yet!), so I can't speak to your prose styling, but I really loved your command of structure and tone in The Linchpin Writer. It's a smart book, but I didn't feel like I was being talked down to. It was accessible, but I didn't get the feeling that you were diluting anything to appeal to a base audience (that may have come out wrong, so if I offended anyone by saying that, I'm sorry). I just loved that the whole book is so practical and encouraging while still maintaining that literary or sophisticated bent. So what advice did you leave out of the book that you might offer a fledgling writer?
Don't work on creating the perfect book.
Perfect books are quite boring to read. Perfection is too surface-level. First, work on creating a book that has flaws, but which gives the reader pleasure. That forges into new territory, that feels different than other books out there, that is the type of book you haven't read yet but wish it existed. So many amazing books have minor flaws, but I enjoy them because of what they tried to accomplish, and their imperfections seem beautiful to me.
Small example: the cranial mediations on the whale in Moby Dick. Was it a mistake? Should an editor have taken it out? Well, yes. But the book is still marvelous in spite of it.
Next, work on creating yourself into the type of person that can write a fantastic book. That means putting in the time at the desk. That means reading every day. And set a goal for the number of books you want to read for the year -- 50? 75? Over 100? And keep a notebook of everything you learn from those books, so you're not just consuming but you're analyzing the books to see what they teach you. That also means finding a writing community and getting words on the page.
If you force yourself to write a book, that's good, but you just have a book. Instead, grow yourself into a better writer. So you can write book after book after book.
That's a lot of fantastic advice. I've been playing this game long enough to see trends come and go (and come back again) and the whole state of the industry change. I've done the traditional pub thing, the self-pub thing, and it really comes down to not only loving what you do, but taking it seriously: showing up and doing the hard work and being willing to adapt at every turn.
So I don't want to spoil this story because it's in the book, but it nearly broke my heart. You mentioned mentoring a young girl from India who was struggling to become a writer (against her entire society's wishes). If you could have any author (living or dead) mentor you, whom would you choose and why?
This summer, I flew out to Key West for the Hemingway look-alike contest. 150 guys who look like Hemingway, all competing to be crowned that year's champion. I went with my book club, and we drank Hemingway's rum, toured his house, saw his trophy fish, ran with the bulls in the bull parade, competed in the fishing contest, posed with all the Hemingway models, and drank a lot (as Papa would have liked it).
It felt like a good life. If Big Papa could rise from the dead and give me a few tips on my novel, I wouldn't say no.
God, you have the most AMAZING writing group/book club. I honestly loved these stories in The Linchpin Writer as much as I loved the advice, and I won't pretend I'm not super jealous of your travels because I am.
Thank you so much, John, for dropping by the blog. It was a pleasure. Truly. :)
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The Linchpin Writer is on sale now. Check it out, if you haven't already. Again, here's my review, but you don't have to take my word for it. The five-star ratings are strong with this one. You can also follow John on Twitter: @bookfox And his website is PACKED with awesome content (check out his blog, first).
“If it has ever happened to a human being, it is worthy of inclusion in a book.
It doesn’t matter if it offends someone or breaks a taboo—
the role of books is to say what seems unsayable.”