On Writing

This page gathers material from my blog that might be of special interest to writers. Fellow writers, I hope you find something helpful here. (More information about this page here.)

My Oblique Strategies

My version of Oblique Strategies, the (sort of) famous cards created by Brian Eno to break through creative blocks.

On procrastination, good and bad

Sometimes procrastination is not a matter of bad habits but of good taste.

George R.R. Martin’s “secret weapon”

George R.R. Martin writes his thousand-page epic novels on WordStar, a vintage 1980s, DOS-based word processor.

Public Writer, Private Writer

What Henry James’s story “The Private Life” tells us about writers and book tours.

Leonardo, procrastinator

Leonardo da Vinci’s epic procrastination and the practical use of procrastination as a sign that your work (rather than yourself) may be dull.

Think Quantity

Looking over the numbers of prolific artists and innovators reinforces the basic rule: Creativity is a function of the quantity of work produced.

The Patron Saint of Writers

Meet St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of writers and journalists.

Why do writers like working in coffee shops?

Why would a bustling Starbucks be conducive to writing? It may be an antidote to procrastination.

What Creativity Means

Creativity is not about making something out of nothing. It is about making something new out of old things. To create, you must remix.

The Five Commandments

A few rules for a novelist (or any artist, presumably) struggling to get a new project started.

Creating Billy Bathgate

What the creation of Doctorow’s protagonist suggests about writing method.

Flaubert at Work

A day in the life of Gustave Flaubert as he meticulously composes Madame Bovary.

Fast Fish and Loose Fish

What an ancient law of whaling teaches about story ideas.

In Between Days

The doldrums between books is a dangerous, depressing time for a writer.


The earthy, sensuous craft of making shoes vs. the ethereal art of writing books.

Voices in Our Heads

A homeless man isn’t the only Starbucks customer with invisible friends.

Drawing Circles

Lessons for creatives from two famous circles, Giotto’s O and the enso of Japanese calligraphy.

It’s All Been Done

The pleasures and anxieties of writing in a genre.

Experimental Writers vs. Conceptual Writers

Economist David Galenson posits that there are two types of writers: experimenters, a group that includes Dickens, Twain, and Virginia Woolf; and visionaries, such as Melville, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway.

Vita Brevis, Ars Brevior

A good but not great movie from 1965 is a reminder how short-lived most art is.

A Writer on Monday Morning

Buzz Bissinger vents his self-doubt on Twitter.

Starting Over

Finishing one book, starting another.

Writing Like It’s 1999

Why I use a ten-year-old, slow, WiFi-free ThinkPad: it’s the perfect writer’s computer.

How Writers Write: Ian McEwan

A peek into the process of one of one of my favorite writers, Ian McEwan.

Writing Is Play

Writing is a form of play, which is not to say it is easy.

Dickens’ Outlines

Dickens’ notes are a rare opportunity for a young writer to watch a master at work.

A Lesson from Dickens

In 1839, 27-year-old Charles Dickens was already a superstar. Then he did a strange thing: he applied to law school.

Last Words

Finding the closing words to a novel is a tricky business.

The Anxiety of Finishing

The unease of publishing a book that is flawed.

The Importance of Shipping

Seth Godin advises: What you do for a living is ship.

Title Trouble

The struggle to name my third novel, which would ultimately be called “Defending Jacob.”

Book 3 Update: The Final Push

As a deadline looms, an update on a novel in progress.

A Thousand Words a Day

I usually avoid words-per-day quotas, but with a deadline looming I had to try.

Writer’s Room: W. Somerset Maugham

Maugham at his writing desk (photo)

Edmund Wilson Regrets

A postcard from the pre-blog era

Remembering Updike the Father

John Updike’s son writes a eulogy for his father

Crime novels and entertainments

Crime novels are easier to write than literary ones. So what?

Makers vs. Managers

All writers are both makers and managers. The trick is to keep the two roles separate.

How Writers Write: Graham Greene

Graham Greene’s remarkable writing method.

Capote and Ellison: Blocked or just procrastinating?

What happened to two famous writers who fell silent?

On Moving to a New Publisher in the UK

Being dropped by one English publisher is humbling, being picked up by another is inspiring.

How Writers Write: Philip Roth

Philip Roth discusses his writing process (video)

The Breakthrough, at last

After weeks of futility, a breakthrough on a stubborn scene

Creating Writers: Do MFA Programs Produce Dull Writers?

Are MFA programs to blame for all the dull books out there?

Things I Love: The AlphaSmart Neo

The best computer for writers isn’t a computer at all.

Suck, Squeeze, Bang, Blow: Why Writers Get Stuck

Writers get stuck for a reason: the mind is working on a problem.

The Way We Write Now: Novelists and Their Blogs

Why I reluctantly started blogging, after years of resisting. (This is the first post I ever wrote for this blog.)