Writer’s Toolbox

Author Q&A

Here we present our exclusive collection of Q&As with a long list of illustrious authors.

Philip Lopate

Philip LopatePhilip Lopate is an author of poetry and non-fiction books such as At the End of the Day and Notes on Sontag.

What is your method for overcoming writer’s block?

I have rarely suffered from writer's block. My techniques to keep prolific include: vary work in the different genres, switching from nonfiction to fiction to poetry and back; acquire knowledge of some specific subjects, so that one is not always forced to cannibalize one's life-experience (for instance, I've learned a lot about movies, architecture, photography, education, and can write about any one of these on assignment); keep journals and write in them even if nothing else comes to mind.

What are your favorite or most helpful writing prompts?

I do not have "writing prompts" per se, more a set of signals. For instance, if I realize I am repeating a pattern that has stymied me or led to a dead end, I try to analyze the reasons. I also write about things that make me feel squeamish or afraid or ambivalent. Finally, and most importantly, I write about things that amuse me and that I anticipate will give me pleasure thinking about and hence will entertain the reader.

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

The most valuable advice I got was to give yourself time, it takes years to make a writer, don't worry if you don't get it right the first time or if people don't "get it" right away. Just persist. Most of my friends told me these things.