Bruce DeSilva is the author of the critically acclaimed Mulligan crime novels.
Q: What is your method for overcoming writer’s block?
A: Before I became a novelist, I worked as a journalist for forty years. Journalists do not have writer's block. They don't wait for inspiration or search for their muse. They believe that writer's block is for sissies. They write every day, whether they feel like it or not. Journalism taught me that writing is a job; and now that I'm writing novels, I still treat it that way. If this sounds a bit harsh, I'll add this. The primary cause of writer's block is the fear of writing something that won't live up to your standards. The way to overcome it is to give yourself permission to suck. Bad writing can always be rewritten or thrown away before anybody but you sees it.
Q: What are your favorite or most helpful writing prompts?
A: When I begin a new novel or short story, I don't think about plot. I think about the thousands of interesting people I've met: The mobster who sat in his office in his suit jacket and boxer shorts, the pants draped on a hanger to preserve the crease. The newspaper editor who got so angry whenever a wayward "hell" or "damn" sneaked into print that he'd curse his staff out in far more colorful language. The former Sisters of Mercy member who was known, for good reason, as Attila the Nun. The pig farmer who was bitter because, no matter how many millions he made, he couldn't get into an exclusive country club. The thug who hijacked a truck only to discover that it was full of folding metal chairs. I just put a couple of them together, get them talking, and discover the story as I go along.
Q: What is the most valuable advice you received as a young writer?
A: Donald M. Murray, the first writing coach in newspaper history, taught me that people think they read with their eyes, but they really read with their ears. They hear the writer speak to them from the page. If the writer's voice is appealing, it will draw readers into and all the way through a story about something they didn't know they were interested in. He also taught me the importance of cultivating my own unique voice as a writer. If you sound like everybody else, he said, what do we need you for? Decades later, as I began my new life as a novelist, I clung to a tip from Elmore Leonard, who famously said, "Try to leave out the parts that people skip."