Writer’s Toolbox

Author Q&A

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

Rebecca Makkai

Rebecca MakkaiRebecca Makkai is the author of the novel The Borrower.

What is your method for overcoming writer’s block?

Vitamin B. I am not kidding. 

What are your favorite or most helpful writing prompts?

I have way too many ideas, and I have notebooks and computer files full of all the stories I’ll never get around to. I’ll turn to those notes whenever I’m in the middle of a story and feel that it’s dragging or I don’t know where it’s going next. So I’ll take my original idea—about, say, the prop master of a theater—and start flipping through those notebooks, playing matchmaker. Prop master plus 19th century nudist colony—no. Prop master plus a Y2K panic story—maybe. Prop master plus a true murder case from 1917, plus the title “Why You Can’t Have Nice Things”—yes. For me, it’s once I have two or three big ideas in there playing off each other that the story comes to life.

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

The writer David Huddle once told me that it was okay to have characters as smart as I am, and that characters can even be smarter than the author. I don’t know why on earth this hadn’t occurred to me, but I’d tried so hard for so many years to dumb my characters down, to limit their understanding of the world. Once I freed myself from that bad habit, my stories finally started to do interesting things.