Susan Choi is a novelist and creative-writing professor at Princeton who’s won the Asian American Literary Award for her debut novel The Foreign Student and was a Pulitzer Pize finalist for American Women, her second novel. When interviewed for The Writer magazine, she answered two key questions:
“What is the most important thing you’ve learned about writing?”
“To write constantly, even without any clear idea of what I’m doing or whether or not I’ll keep what I’ve written, almost like a mechanical exercise. It sounds very strange, but I spent a long time as a younger writer waiting for a certain amount of mental momentum. And I realized after a really long time, after two books, that that doesn’t come by itself. It comes through the act of writing, even if that entails generating a thousand words on any subject so that I’ve composed some chunk of prose — that’s what leads to mental clarity. I feel like people say this all the time, but it’s almost like going to the gym. Writing is a repetition exercise. It sounds so unromantic. But I think it’s the most important thing I’ve learned in the process of being a writer — that I actually have to sit down and just do I think repeatedly, even if a lot of what I do will never end up seeing the light of day. In fact, that’s part of it. It seems almost like it’s necessary to write a lot of stuff that won’t ever see the light of day.”
“How has this helped you as a writer?”
“The most obvious way is that it’s helped me get from one project to another, crossing that abyss from a completed project to a new project. I never knew how to do that, and I always found it really agonizing. But now I’ve learned finally after a handful of books that you just write stuff. I used to be afraid to sit down to write if I didn’t know what I was doing. I don’t know what I was afraid of — maybe that I would corrupt my own ind with crappy writing. Now I just generate lots of crappy writing with the awareness that it will eventually get me somewhere, whereas if I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t end up anywhere.”
“Mental momentum” — may we find it and mine it as we all write on!
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