David Yoo

David YooDavid Yoo is the author of several YA novels including Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before, and the essay collection The Choke Artist: Confessions from a Chronic Underachiever. 

What is your method for overcoming writer’s block?

Sometimes my writer’s block is solved by simply turning off my router and avoiding email, or turning off the TV in the living room (that I’d had on mute so I could occasionally peer over to check the score in a game or something), but on those harder days when I have no distractions and yet still feel stumped, I do three things:

1.) I curse myself out for being a bum/failure/whiny baby/letdown for a few minutes.
2.) Then I step away from the computer or the notebook I’m writing in and do something completely different: play drums, or guitar, juggle a soccer ball in the yard, something physical or at least requires coordination.
3.) Then for a few minutes I curse myself out for playing drums or messing around with the soccer ball outside instead of writing. After which I return to my desk and I usually am able to write.

The key for me, basically, is to reset, rather than torture myself without breathing. The cursing helps a lot, too.

What are your favorite or most helpful writing prompts?

The one I return to the most often is making lists. Once every six months or so, I’ll sit down with a notebook and pen and fill up pages of lists, such as “50 saddest moments of my life” or “50 most important people in my life” etc etc, and the key is that you have to force yourself to get to 50. 5 is easy. So is 10, 15, but at some point 50 will feel impossible to get to, and it’s at that point when you start remembering events and people from your life that previously had been buried.

At first I would make these lists in effort to remember my past, but now I do it because I’m always surprised by the results. Usually there are some startling discoveries (eg: Really, the 8th most important person in my life these days is my mailman?). And it’s informative, even therapeutic, to compare the same list from today with the one you wrote six months ago, and it can be stunning how different the results are. (Really, the mailman?)

What is the most valuable advice you received as a young writer?

I heard the writer Bobbie Louise Hawkins say one time to think of the rough draft of a novel as a “big spill.” Don’t worry about the structure of the plot, the level of polish to the writing, etc—the objective is solely to get the big spill down on paper. The rationale being that you have the rest of your life to revise a novel (I apply this theory to anything I write, including short stories), but only a certain amount of time to get that rough draft out before you lose your initial vigor for the project, or get stuck in a quagmire of a first chapter or what have you. I’ve seen it happen with writer friends countless times, actually, where they not so much dawdle but rather put so much care into every sentence that a year later they have a polished 30 pages at the sacrifice of remembering what was driving them to write the story in the first place.

I like this idea of a big spill because, frankly, I often don’t know what my story’s about no matter how much I address the plot while brainstorming, and it’s only once I’ve finished a crappy rough draft that I start figuring out what it’s about. So with rough drafts I don’t necessarily rush, but I’m definitely eager as hell to finish it as soon as possible. Okay, maybe I rush a little.