Will Chancellor Recommends...

“There's a bit of hubris inherent in writing fiction—no one that I know of has ever been plucked out of a math lecture and told, "No, no. You really should devote more time to your writing. The world needs your impressions of thunderstorms." So after you've announced your intentions to friends and family, there's a moment of pause when you think: Maybe I'm... not vast; maybe I don't contain multitudes. To me, this fear comes from that scoop of bad advice doled out to every aspiring writer: Write about what you know. For some people that works—there are some stories that just need to get out. Not surprisingly, this writing often veers toward autobiography. But if you’re the kind of person who rarely checks in with herself, who notices how everyone else in the room is feeling rather than dwelling on self-analysis, this adage will mess with you. My advice is to write about something you know nothing about, and then get to know it intimately. Ten years ago I knew this novel involved the Olympics, Ancient Greek, conceptual art, and Iceland—all things that I knew absolutely nothing about. But I knew intuitively that this was the book. So I took up a new sport, learned a dead language, sculpted a piece for the New Museum, and traversed Iceland for two months. My writing begins by trusting intuition fully, especially if it's intuition into something I know nothing about. Learning excites me and pulls me through those rough early drafts. From there, it's a lot of reading and whenever possible, doing the things I'm writing about. Once I've actually re-enacted parts of the story, I can do the fine-tuning necessary for a final draft.”
Will Chancellor, author of A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall (Harper, 2014)