When you picture someone reading your work, how do you see them? What do they think about, wear, and do? Or, maybe a better way to say it: who do you write for? And how do you see your writing nourishing others?
My readers include anyone who is genuinely interested in the spiritual and philosophical journey. Since much of my work focuses on Judaism and Jewish philosophy, many of my readers are Jewish. Some are very committed, Orthodox Jews, but others are less traditional. But I also have many Christian readers. Since the book is very philosophical, it is not light reading and therefore not everybody’s cup of tea. But, since my newest book, The Conversation, is a novel, it allows the reader to follow the main character through a spiritual and philosophical journey that is also intensely personal. Some of my readers will sympathize with the struggles and doubts, spiritual highs and lows that are common along this journey.
How do you use fiction as a practice for spiritual exploration, discipline, or growth? Can you offer any practical advice or sure-fire practices for folks interested in allowing writing to inform their spiritual discipline?
In my fictional work, I painted a picture of a college student who wrestles with the intellectual and practical challenges that are posed by a demanding faith such as Judaism. One of the techniques I used is that the character keeps a journal, in which he reflects on these challenges. In some ways, the novel is quasi-autobiographical. Many of the questions and conflicts which the main character experiences are ones which I went through as a college student. Writing this novel was something of a catharsis for me. However, the novel is not purely autobiographical either. My background is Orthodox Jewish; my main character’s background is essentially that of a rather assimilated Jew. It is often said that the best writing comes from the heart, but it is perhaps a good idea to keep some distance between oneself and one’s main character to maintain some objectivity!
When you approach your desk, journal, computer—where ever it is you tend to create—what are some of the processes you use? What’s going through your mind? Tell us about your habits of writing, no matter how quirky, mundane, strange, or small.
A lot of my writing of my recent novel was done in a café on my laptop. For me, getting out of the house and my office actually helps me focus on my novel. I usually have a cup of coffee while I work. I tend to work in 2 hour slots; I need a break after that much time. I could easily write several hundred words a day, but my novel – which is over 5oo pages — took seven years to write!
When you go to revise work, how do you typically go about it? Are there best practices you follow? Give some wise instruction for those of us ready to get cracking on revision!
I try to put myself in the shoes of my reader. Especially since my writing is philosophical, I work real hard to make myself intelligible. I could rewrite some passages six or seven times before getting it right.
As for practical advice, sometimes it’s a good idea to write a few pages, then not look at it for a day or two, come back to it later with a fresh look.
What’s the best advice you can give to a person just beginning to write, struggling to write, or feeling stuck? What’s something you wish someone had told you starting out?
For me, having an outline, a structure for the book was absolutely crucial. There were times when I hit snags, times when I thought of giving up. But I always came back to the outline. The outline is like a tree, and everything else in the book are branches, leaves, and flowers. If your outline is solid, and you believe in it, you can always come back to it for inspiration. Also, I found that developing strong characters was in a way more important than developing a plot. If your characters are solid, then your story will tell itself.
The original interview appeared here.