Will Allison

Will AllisonWill Allison is the author of novels Long Drive Home and What You Have Left.

What is your method for overcoming writer’s block?

I keep a book on my desk while I write, and whenever I get stuck, I read a little bit. The danger, of course, is that I’ll sit there reading all day instead of writing, so I have a two-page limit.

Also, I prefer to use a book I’ve already read so I won’t be tempted to keep reading just to find out what happens I don’t know why this works, but it does. Somehow, getting into the rhythm of someone else’s language and sentences gets my own sentences flowing again. I think it also allows me to forget what I’m working on just long enough for my subconscious to kick in. There can be value in distraction.

Anyhow, some books are much more useful to me in this regard than others. My most reliable writer’s-block busters are Alice Munro’s more recent collections (Too Much Happiness, Carried Away, Runaway, and Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage), but I’ve also had good luck with The Great Gatsby and especially William Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow.

What are your favorite or most helpful writing prompts?

To be honest, I’ve never really used writing prompts, per se, as a writer or as a teacher. Does freewriting count? Or free-talking? I do a lot of my “writing” by talking to myself with a handheld recorder in the car, on the way to pick up my daughter from school. Usually I’ll focus on one or two specific writing problems I’ve been having that day. And usually by the time I get to school, I have at least the glimmer of a solution.

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

I had the good fortune to study with Lee K. Abbott as an undergraduate at Case Western and as a grad student at Ohio State. Lee used to say that if you want to be a writer, you have to keep your butt in the chair. I suppose this is something all writers find out for themselves sooner or later: there is no substitute for putting in your hours. But it was very useful to hear this up front, as an undergraduate, at a time when I had romantic notions about the writing life that I badly needed to be disabused of.