I’m not sure I can agree with Joe that the critique in my own head is the worse one I’ve ever received – I tend to think I’m pretty awesome, after all – but I can definitely get one board with the recommendation of Chaim Potok any day.
1. Tell me about your latest project.
Let’s Write a Short Story! is a book for writers who want to start a career writing fiction but aren’t sure where to start. Like most writers, I never worried about short stories. Novels are what make money, what make authors famous, and what I read, so I thought I would just focus on short stories.
But after failing to complete another novel, I scrapped it from 15,000 words of crap to 3,000 words of pretty decent writing and realized it would make a short story. With a lot of rewriting—and some wise feedback from readers like you, Andi—I was able to turn it into a short story I was proud of.
That’s when I started to realize most of the best authors—Twain, Hemingway, Tolstoy, and even Stephen King—didn’t start their writing career with novels but with short stories. I wanted to create something of a guidebook for authors who, like me, might want to write short stories, but weren’t sure how to start. After a lot of research, Let’s Write a Short Story! was born.
2. What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood?
Every year, for my birthday and for Christmas, my cousin (who’s 80, and more like a grandfather), would give me two books. They were always classics: Dostoevsky, Dickens, Hugo, and Thoreau. I labored through them, sometimes taking months to finish. However, if it weren’t for those books, I don’t think I would be a writer today.
3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?
It depends on what I’m working on. Right now, I’m writing as many blog posts as I can. However, in a week or so, I’ll have to get back to the non-fiction book I’m ghostwriting. In the cracks of the day, though, I write short stories. I don’t have routines as much as mad urges to run around and write something. But when I take on a project, I focus on that thing alone.
4. Who are you reading now?
I just finished My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok again, to prepare myself to see a theatrical adaptation in Atlanta. It’s a beautiful story about the tension between religion and art, about a painting prodigy who grows up into a Hassidic Jewish community in Brooklyn in the 1940s and 50s. It’s a must read for any artist or writer.
5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?
I love Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses. I love the way his words feel on my tongue, the breathlessness of the whole book.
Honestly, I love Dune, and anything in the Dune series. Herbert creates a whole world, full of religion, philosophy, politics, technology. It’s astounding.
I love anything by Hemingway, but The Old Man and the Sea is probably my favorite. I never read it in high school or college, which I’m grateful for, because everyone I know who has hates it. But the book is so simple, clear, and full of life. I actually named my computer after Santiago because I love him so much.
6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?I don’t balance mostly. I love The Write Practice and give it nearly everything I have. Someday, I know that I won’t have to focus on building a platform as much, and I will be able to focus on my fiction. In the meantime, though, I’m learning new things every day. I also do my best to write beautifully on my blog whenever I can. When something strikes me, or when I feel the need for a new short story project, I go all in on that. But balance is not my strength.
7.What is a typical day like for you?
A frantic dash through Word documents, the internet, Scrivener, and back again, sometimes until midnight or later. It’s a problem.
8. Describe your dream writing space?
A new coffee shop in a new city every month.
9. What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?
The hardest critiques are always in your head, the imagined critique, the pre-rejection. Once you actually get critiqued, it’s not that big of a deal.
10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?
Don’t let your imagination stop you from being critiqued. Be tenacious for rejection. If you get enough of it, you might just get published. At the very least, you’ll learn something.
Joe Bunting is the founder of The Write Practice, a community workbook for writers. His new ebook, Let’s Write a Short Story!, teaches people how to become better writers by writing and publishing short stories. Follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).