Lillian Li Recommends...

“I love limited edition Oreo cookies, which is to say I love novelty and play. So when I commit to writing a novel, an act steeped in routine and the grind, I inevitably run into problems. Eventually, I get myself unstuck, but looking back on how I manage to do so, I cannot find a unified answer. I see only a scattershot collection of wacky solutions. Last month, I pulled out a typewriter I hadn’t used in four years and transcribed a page of my opening chapter every day, for three days. Then I returned to my laptop, my three-day headache fading as I speedily, and softly, tapped across the keyboard. Two weeks before that, I opened a favorite book and followed every narrative move it made, sometimes copying the sentences verbatim, substituting only the characters’ names. This lasted five days before I tired of the other writer’s voice and returned to my own. A couple months earlier, I paused the novel I was working on to write a nonfiction essay on the same topic. I pitched the idea, did the research, and wrote an essay so messy and reluctant that the editor soundly, and rightfully, rejected it. Perhaps there is a pattern after all, which is a pattern of tricking myself out of my own boredom. I turn to games and distraction, until I start to miss the stolid security of the world I have been slowly, steadily building. Then, I get back to work.”
—Lillian Li, author of Number One Chinese Restaurant (Henry Holt, 2018)