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Author Archive: "Joshua Mohr"

Your Imagination, Your Fingerprint

When I was in grad school, a teacher told our workshop that if a published novel is 300 pages, the writer had to generate 1,200 along the way. I didn't buy it. Maybe it took this teacher 1,200 pages to find the right 300, but I would never have to produce such excess. I'd maybe need, say, 307. Then I'd move some commas around, get all thesaurus-y with the adjectives, maybe test-drive a new font. But 1,200 to end up with 300?

No way. Not me.

Now that I've published five novels, I know that she was spot on. But what I would have never been able to predict about my process was the importance of the 900 pages that an end-reader will never see. They aren't wasted. They are vital, just as important as the 300 that are bound and placed on the shelf.

Really, novelists are writing two books simultaneously.

The first book is that 1,200-page draft, though it's probably never actually 1,200 pages at once, but parceled out from remix to remix. This all-seeing draft is bulbous and overwritten, with nonessential scenes and flights of exposition ...

So My Therapist Says I Should Be Honest…

Good day, gorgeous people of the Powell's literati:

This is the last day I'll be yakking at you here. Thanks for letting me ramble a bit. And thanks for those of you who've been popping me emails about these posts. When you lob content onto the Internet, it's nice to know that people are taking the time to read. You rule!!

I know I've already said some of this in earlier posts this week, but I've never been afraid to repeat myself. So if you're an aspiring writer, here's what I'm hoping you do:

  • Write recklessly.
  • Feel completely liberated from quality control in your early drafts. Be like an improvising musician; there's plenty of time to clean things up in subsequent revisions.
  • The best writers I know are relaxed authors. Have fun on the page. It makes all the difference in the world. Trust me.

Now go brew that coffee, crank that rock and roll, and let your imagination loose from its cage. Let it ravage the city. Decimate the village. Let it smash the kneecaps ...

What Would Tom Waits Do?

Dear smart, beautiful, savvy members of the Powell's literati:

How are you today? I'm hoping that we can all agree that Tom Waits is a badass. I mean, how many amazing songs has he written? How many times has he reinvented himself over the years? I admire his seemingly fearless ability to shatter our expectations.

Sometimes I pretend that Waits gives me pep talks on days when I'm writing predictable blasé sentences. That's probably not something that I should admit in public, but we're all friends here, right? Well, aren't we? Here's how it normally plays out between Waits and me:

"Why don't you try something you've never done before?" Tom asks. "Blow our minds with something unexpected."

I shrug my shoulders, hem and haw, crippled with obviousness. "It's not that easy. Stop making it sound so simple."

"Seriously," he says, "if this is the best work you can do, why not make balloon animals instead?"

I guess I'm so interested in defying expectations because I'm ...

Your Imagination Is Your Fingerprint

To pay the bills, I'm a professor. I teach in the MFA program at the University of San Francisco. If there's one thing I feel like I've learned from reading the work of all my smart students, it's that the future of literature is incredibly bright. When people lament MFA programs, they usually criticize them as an ad hoc governing body that homogenizes student work, makes everybody write in similar modes, etc.

But in my experience, that's nowhere near the truth. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the imaginations I see my students showcase consistently impresses me.

On the first night of workshop, I always tell my students that no one else on earth has her particular imagination . Nobody can write the exact stories that she can. No one can take us on a guided journey quite like her lovely nimble mind.

So for all you aspiring authors out there, remember to play to your imagination as a strength. It's your greatest asset. Liberate yourself on the page and ...

Insomnia: The Other White Meat

I'd imagine that a responsible hub like Powells attracts a ton of smart readers. That's you. I'd also assume that there are a lot of aspiring writers. That might be you, too. In that spirit, I wanted to chat a bit about insomnia, which in my humble opinion has gotten a bad rap over the years.

I'm an insomniac, and I'd like to sing its praises for a minute. My best work gets done between midnight and 5 a.m., in the hours liberated from cell phones and emails and "real world" responsibilities. Sometimes, I think I'm better suited for my imaginary worlds anyway. Real life confuses me.

I have no scientific facts to back up my argument here, except to say that my running theory is that in the middle of the night the gap between my conscious and subconscious mind is somehow narrowed. Every wild, reckless, nutty idea I've ever had on the page started in an insomniac fit. It's a time liberated from rational thought. I never hedge my bets. I ...

The Girl with a Black Eye

I always celebrate writing a book by getting tattooed. With the first novel, I got a campy heart with the main character's name in it. Silly me, I thought people would find "Rhonda" etched on my wrist an interesting conversation starter, but every time somebody asks, "Who's Rhonda?" and I say, "He's this guy I made up," they always scamper away as quickly as possible.

With book two, Termite Parade, I took the hint and made the connection a bit less literal, a pretty picture of a bumblebee. It incites much less scampering.

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