NPR logo National Book Award Finalists Explain Their Craft


National Book Award Finalists Explain Their Craft

We've asked fiction writers from all genres for the essence of noveling: how they write, how they overcome writer's block and their best written sentence. Today, we feature finalists from the 2005 and 2006 National Book Awards.

Jess Walter: Juggles Different Writing Styles

Jess Walter is a binge writer, writing until he can literally write no more. Dan Pelle hide caption

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Dan Pelle

Jess Walter is the author of four novels. His latest, The Zero, is a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award. Walter is also an investigative reporter. He lives in Spokane, Washington.

How He Writes: "My writing regimen is not very regimented. I tend to be a binge writer, working sometimes in the morning and sometimes all night. When I get going I like to hunch over the keyboard until I feel totally played out."

Writer's Block Remedies: "My cure for writer's block is to step away from the thing I'm stuck on, usually a novel, and write something totally different. Besides fiction, I write poetry, screenplays, essays and journalism. It's usually not the writing itself that I'm stuck on, but thing I'm trying to write. So I often have four or five things going at once."

A Favorite Sentence: "I tend to like the last sentence I just wrote, which is: 'It was late in the fall and the trees lining our driveway had turned red like a row of burning matches.'"

Previous Author: Nancy Werlin Next Author: Gail Tsukiyama

Nancy Werlin: Get Thee to a Bread Store

Nancy Werlin is not sponsored by Panera ... or is she? Meghan Moore hide caption

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Meghan Moore

Nancy Werlin is the author of six young adult novels. Her latest, The Rules of Survival, is a finalist for the 2006 National Book Awards for Young People's Literature.

How She Writes: "Lately, it's been the following:

1) Get to a Panera Bread cafe sometime in the morning.

2) Order large decaf skim latte.

3) Skulk or pounce to get possession of table near electrical outlet.

4) Plug in, boot up and immediately download email using Panera's free wireless access.

5) Waste time on email and web.

6) Finally open file containing novel-in-progress and get to work.

7) Write until lunchtime.

8) Pack up computer, use bathroom, get in line for lunch.

9) Obtain lunch, attempt and fail to reclaim table near electrical outlet, settle for other table and run off battery.

10) Eat lunch while answering email.

11) Return to work writing, eyeing the Daily Goal: 1,000 good words."

Writer's Block Remedies: "I tell myself that all I need to do is open the file and work for 15 minutes. Or ten. Or five."

A Favorite Sentence: "In the end, the survivor gets to tell the story."

Previous Author: Mary Gaitskill Next Author: Jess Walter

Mary Gaitskill: Morning, Afternoon or Evening

Mary Gaitskill has two cures for writer's block: 1) Do something else or 2) keep writing. Mary Gaitskill hide caption

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Mary Gaitskill

Mary Gaitskill is the author of four novels; her most recent, Veronica, was a finalist for the 2005 National Book Award. Her short story "Secretary" was the basis for the film of the same name.

How She Writes: "It varies. Sometimes I start a few hours after I get up, sometimes I don't start until early evening. I used to start at about 10 at night and work until early morning. My preferred way to work is to start in the early afternoon and work until about 3, go do errands, have dinner and then write for a few more hours in the evening."

Writer's Block Remedies: "Sometimes I decide I don't want to write because it isn't the thing for me to be doing right then and I go do something else. Writing requires an intense inner focus and sometimes you need to express outward, physically or socially. Sometimes I think how awful it is that I'm blocked and keep writing."

A Great Sentence: "I'd rather other people point those out."

Previous Author: Myla Goldberg Next Author: Nancy Werlin