Jennifer Egan is an American novelist and short story writer. Her novels include The Invisible Circus (1995) Look at Me (2001) and The Keep (2006). She’s also the author of A Visit from the Goon Squad, which was published in 2010, and in the following year was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Currently based in Brooklyn, there are a number of lessons writers can learn from Jennifer. Below are 5 of them:
1. Don’t worry about the rules
If ever there was an author unafraid of breaking conventional writing rules and creating new approaches to writing, then Jennifer Egan is such a person. For instance, her book A Visit from the Goon Squad doesn’t actually begin to a specific genre. It isn’t totally a novel. Neither is it just a collection of short stories. It can be considered to be both.
In an interview with BOMB Magazine, she had the following to say about A Visit from the Goon Squad, “I wanted to avoid centrality. I wanted polyphony. I wanted a lateral feeling, not a forward feeling. My ground rules were: every piece has to be very different, from a different point of view. I actually tried to break that rule later; if you make a rule then you also should break it!”
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This is a great principle you can apply to your own writing. If you’re finding your writing is becoming stifled and you’re becoming overcome by lots of “I should do this” or I shouldn’t do that”, remember you don’t need to keep going in the same direction. Take the opposite route or a diagonal one and continue writing from a new dimension. See where this leads you.
2. Trust your unconscious
When you write and you find yourself thinking, then your conscious mind is in action. Your conscious mind can be both a friend and enemy when you write. When helpful it can help you create characters, or define the pieces of a plot. When used incorrectly it can create self-judgment and prevent creativity. “It’s not that I sit down and write great stuff without thinking, not at all. Most of it is terrible. But the stuff that feels fun and fresh to me tends to happen fairly unthinkingly”, Jennifer said in an interview with PopMatters.
If you’ve never done this before, then give it go. Just write from deep within and put onto paper whatever your unconscious brings to the surface. And it doesn’t matter if you read what you’ve written and it doesn’t make complete sense. Underlying, there will be a story emerging; a totally original one that would not have been possible if your conscious mind had been in control.
3. Write about what you don’t know
Related to the point above about trusting your unconscious, is to write about something that you don’t know. Very often, beginner writers will write about what they know. They will have experiences and meet people, which will then form a part of a story. And of course, the resulting short story or novel can turn out to be a great read. Jennifer Egan on the other hand, doesn’t write about what she already knows. Speaking about people she comes across, Jennifer told the Seattle Met “I’ll often think, That’s an amazing character. But I’m never thinking about it in terms of someone that I can actually use, because I’m actually very bad at that.”
As a writer, if you’re comfortable writing about what you’ve seen, heard and felt, and if this works for you, then fine. However, if you really want to expand and develop your skills, try writing a story which is totally imagined and bears no resemblance to what you’ve experienced.
4. Study others
If you’re trying to bring your authentic self out when writing, or experimenting with a different approach, and having trouble doing so, the good news is there will always be other writers both living and dead, who will have adopted a similar type of approach and mind-set to one you want to realize. For instance, in A Visit from the Goon Squad, the passage of time in a nonlinear way, in the context of the music industry is a major part of the book. Jennifer credited reading Marcel Proust to help her achieve this in her writing. Talking about Proust, Jennifer had the following to say to PopMatters “I loved all of that and I especially loved Proust’s ability to capture the transformations and reversals that happen over time, the way that outcomes are so often unexpected and in fact almost the opposite of what you would expect.”
Inspirations to help you craft your story in a particular way are all around you. They could be authors that you’ve read, television programmes and movies you’ve watched, or a scenario that happened while you were out on a shopping trip.
5. Remain humble
There’s no doubt that being awarded globally recognized and prestigious book prizes transforms an author into a celebrity. However, what one does with this new found fame is up to the person. About being awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and asked whether it had changed her, Jennifer said to the Seattle Met “I would say no, in the sense that the basics of my life are still the same. I’ve got two kids and a husband, I live in Brooklyn, I have the same friends I’ve always had—and in a way, that’s what life is.” As your author career progresses, your fan base will grow, as will your income. When this happens, remind yourself of the simple pleasures in life and be grateful for what you have. Doing so will help you remain grounded and ensure you don’t forget where you came from.
Image credit: David Shankbone on Wikimedia Commons and reproduced under Creative Commons 3.0[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]https://writingtipsoasis.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/hv1.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Hiten Vyas is the Founder and Managing Editor of eBooks India. He is also a prolific eBook writer with over 25 titles to his name.[/author_info] [/author]