Tommy Orange Recommends...

My main strategy for writing a book is based around not stopping. That doesn’t mean writing every day or at every chance I get—it’s a messy process so there are definitely days I don’t write. Finding ways to not get stuck in doubt, or in decisions that feel impossible to make, is the real challenge. The book is only ever going to be “done” enough. Since I don’t want to give away all my secrets, I’ll only share two practices that keep me working—if that feels stingy of me, to be fair, these are the things I do the most to stay inspired and to move through the mud of doubt (the almost-default feeling when something takes a long time to write).

I’ve heard other writers say reading is part of their writing process, while some say they can’t read other people’s books while they write their own. I’m firmly in the former camp. Nothing makes me want to write more than reading work that’s doing or saying something new, or, better yet, achieving both at once. If you read enough, you’ll find more books you’re disappointed by than ones you don’t want to end. So I pay attention to new books, to books receiving attention, contemporary novels about the times we live in, and books in conversation with my writing. Finding books you love takes time and patience, but there are so many out there. You have to keep the faith and continue searching.

Another strategy is POV transposition: I move characters between grammatical persons to see how the language changes, and whether it reveals something new about them. I also experiment with tenses for the same reason—changing from past to present, and vice versa. There’s a lot of pronoun editing too: he and she to you and I. It’s tedious work, but it helps when I don’t feel inspired to write. When I’m stuck. When I perhaps even hate everything I’ve ever written. I’ll often trick myself back into writing by doing this, and before I know it, I’m adding language to the story or character that didn’t exist before. Then if it’s really working, I’m back to writing my book again.

Tommy Orange, author of Wandering Stars (Knopf, 2024)  

Photo credit: Michael Lionstar