Daniel Orozco is the author of many short stories, included in anthologies such as The Best American Short Stories.
What is your method for overcoming writer’s block?
When I get stuck on a piece of writing, I consider that to be an engagement with the work—striving to solve a problem. When I'm stuck I allow myself to walk away, knowing that I will return, in an hour or in the afternoon or the next day. (But no later than the next day!) Let the problem percolate, and go do something else. What I often do is research. I find out about the kind of city/town/region my story takes place in, about its weather and flora and fauna. If a character drives a sports car, I research sports cars to determine what kind she drives, even if the reader never needs to know that. If somebody is making daiquiris in a blender, I research blenders. While I'm immersed in the concrete details of the story world, that problem I'm stuck on is still percolating somewhere in my head, and very often an Aha! moment occurs, and I have a potential solution that gets me back to the writing.
What are your favorite or most helpful writing prompts?
Before you even have a story idea in mind, sit down and come up with two hundred titles. Set some arbitrary conditions: write down 25 two-word titles consisting of a definite article and a concrete noun: The Mountain, The Suspenders, The Unicycle. Write down 25 titles that are questions. Write down 25 titles that are at least eight words long. Write 25 titles from entries chosen at random in a dictionary. (A random method: I determine the number of pages in my dictionary—say, 1500—and the number of entries on a typical page—say, 50. Then I write down 25 pairs of numbers, the first between 1-1500, the second between 1-50.) Write 25 that begin "How to. . . ." And so on. Look at your list of two hundred titles. Many of them you will dismiss immediately. But there will be a handful that you'll "like," for some reason. These are the ones that often suggest a story you didn't even know you wanted to write.
What is the most valuable advice you received as a young writer?
"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." — Samuel Beckett