Lauren Groff is the author of the novels The Monsters of Templeton and Delicate Edible Birds.
What is your method for overcoming writer’s block?
I think writer's block is an umbrella term for a series of very different pains. There's the biggest one, the writer's block that comes from a fear of imperfection, which can be combatted by a writer carefully training herself to let her work be messy and impermanent. I write all first three or four drafts longhand, and usually end up putting them away and starting over without even rereading them. I embrace the shitty first draft and wait until I have a very firm sense of the story before I even think about putting it on the computer, because the typeface looks too permanent and unchangeable to my eyes. Have the humility to know that your work is always flexible, that it can always be bettered. Then there's the writer's block that comes from being impatient with your work and not allowing it the time it needs to develop; if you long so much for publication and external ratification, your work can sense it and it will turn catlike and perverse and desert you. And there's the Writer's Block that's actually the canary toppling over in the coalmine, the way that your work is telling you that you're going down the wrong path and you need to reconsider some larger issues. These are usually structural, I've found, and you may need to put your work in a drawer for a few months and reread it with fresh eyes when you've forgotten a good deal about it. During that time away, be in your chair every day, but be there by reading everything you can get your hands on, and you'll find a solution in the hundreds of thousands of words you've read.
What are your favorite or most helpful writing prompts?
Before I begin a longer project, I want to know my characters as completely as I can. I give myself two hours on an egg timer and ten pages in a notebook and write down everything I know about one single character until the timer goes off or I've hit the tenth page. Even if nothing from those pages goes into the final book, the details sound the depths of your story.
What is the most valuable advice you received as a young writer?
Lorrie Moore told me to relax. That is always excellent advice for a young writer. Don't rush your stories or your career, and don't try to publish things that are unripe. You can only hurt yourself. Also, remember that nothing is ever wasted. If you have story that is only at ninety percent now, someday in the future something will click, and you will write it much better, in a white heat, and when it finally goes into the world it will make you proud.