Junot Diaz author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, just published a new short-story collection called This Is How You Lose Her. It took Junot eleven years to write Oscar Wao and this new book took five years to complete. Junot is the first to admit that the pace of his writing is maddeningly slow and he’s talked candidly in print about the challenges he faces during both the draft and revision phases of a project.
To me, this is refreshing. It’s also comforting to know that just about all writers, whatever their level of craft and success, experience bouts of insecurity and run into slow patches. In an article called, “Junot Diaz Hates Writing Short Stories,” Junot talked about some of the qualities and approaches that helped him push through his newest book:
Learning to live with your critical self: Managing two, often-conflicting tools: the creative process and your internal editor is one of the toughest aspects of writing observes Junot. You need your critical self to craft your work but it can put the “brakes on your process.” This yin-yang facet of writing is something we simply have to live with.
Learning to play: For Junot, when he’s “playing full out” and feeling relaxed — when he’s writing just for the sheer playfulness of it and not to please anyone else (even the reader), he does his best work. When he tries to force things or focus too narrowly, then his writing loses its juice and energy.
Learning to balance writing and reading: Sometimes when we’re writing and hit a rough patch, we’ll read to avoid facing the page. When this happens, we need to get ourselves back to work. And sometimes, when we’re “forcing” our work, we need to step away from the page and read. When we do this, we may find something in another book that will spark a new approach in our own work. One book which fell into Junot’s lap and was on a totally different subject, gave Junot the idea for the “deep structure” of Oscar Wao.
Learning to let go: In writing his short-story collection, Junot had a number of false starts. He spent six months on one story that “never came together,” and a year on another which resulted in 100 pages that didn’t go anywhere. Sometimes you have to throw pages overboard before you can build a boat that floats: you have to be willing to dump what doesn’t work before you can figure out what does.
If there’s one thing that Junot’s ups and downs demonstrate, it’s that sometimes all you can do is to doggedly soldier on: “hang on ’till you catch on.” Without a huge dose of persistence, nothing happens. So keep plugging away and write on.