Right Book, Right Time


Sometimes the exact right book shows up in your life at the exact right time. Maybe it's a comforting book that comes along just when you've lost someone; maybe it's a hilarious book that finds you right when you need a pick-me-up. Or maybe it's a book that seems to have all the answers to a problem you're struggling with.

I've been struggling with how to write the story of one of the characters in the project I'm working on right now. I'm super in love with and interested in my first main character, but with this second main character--whose story and history are (at least right now) a crucial part of the fabric of this book--I just can't seem to get interested. When I write her, my writing seems stale and uninspired.

A piece on The Millions called "The Art of the Strange Writing Exercise" piqued my interest when I was browsing around the web one day. The article is worth checking out, but what got me excited was a book it talks about called The 3 A.M. Epiphany, a book of writing exercises which purports to "try to respond to how writers censor themselves, how we react to familiar patterns of behavior, and how we fall into ruts." It me! I thought and immediately ordered this book from Amazon.

I haven't dived very deeply into the exercises themselves yet, but already this book is speaking to me. This morning I read from the introduction: "The art of writing fiction should be a process of figuring out what we know about what we're writing (or discovering what we're looking for in a story) rather than trying to convey to someone else what we already know. In other words, the best fiction reveals a writer who is learning something rather than trying to teach something."

Yes! You don't always need a piece of writing to affirm what you already believe, but in this case, it was reassuring to have someone else articulate exactly what I feel when I write--that I'm at my best when I'm discovering.

I'm excited to get deeper into this book and start using its exercises. One of the things that convinced me to purchase it is how its author uses it to teach his students: Instead of letting them view each exercise as its own separate thing, he asks them to make several exercises "cohere around one set of characters, a place, and a relatively short period of time," eventually building a longer story out of smaller pieces they've worked on. I like the idea of being asked to take a larger thing that I aim to do (write my second main character's story for this new project, for instance) and break it down, look at it from a different perspective, let it be weird, messy, unexpected, bad, nonsensical, and then see what might come out of taking the "strange" approach to the thing that has previously come out stale. We'll see if it works! In the mean time, I can definitely say that The 3 A.M. Epiphany found me at just the right time.