Variety, Variety, Variety, Variety, Variety

But the thing [Stephen Sondheim] always sort of stressed was variety, variety, variety, variety, variety. When you're dealing with a constant rhythm, no matter how great your lyrics are, if you don't switch it up, people's heads are going to start bobbing. And they're going to stop listening to what you're saying, so consistently keep the ear fresh and keep the audience surprised. And, you know, that was his sort of watchword throughout the writing of "Hamilton." I'd send him a batch of songs, and he'd say I'm going to say it again — variety, variety, variety. And so I — you know, that was my mantra during the writing of that show.


Literature Is About People Who Do the Wrong Thing

Sometimes students seem shy about writing about people who do the wrong thing -- we’re all taught to do the right thing and focus on the right thing. But all of literature is about people who do the wrong thing, despite themselves. What would the story be if they did the right thing? No story at all. Fiction wants to look at all the things that go wrong.


Writing Requires Revision

One of the most important things that I teach them early on is that writing requires revision and that writing is a process. I teach undergrads and I think often undergrads don’t realize that. They think when you’re a writer, especially a creative writer, that you write something and it’s perfect and you hit send and it goes out to the world. They really don’t understand what a process it is and how there’s an entire group of people working together to revise your work, to refine your work, before it ever reaches an audience.



Perhaps it would be better not to be a writer, but if you must, then write. If all feels hopeless, if that famous “inspiration” will not come, write. If you are a genius, you’ll make your own rules, but if not — and the odds are against it — go to your desk no matter what your mood, face the icy challenge of the paper — write.


Leave Room for the Story to Grow

I’ve realized that writer’s block hits me when I don’t know how to reach a point that I can envisage in the future of the book. I just don’t know how to get there. My cure—and I touch wood as I write this—has been to stop trying to fill the gap, and get straight to writing the bit that I know. The story never intended to have a bridge to get there, what it means is that something extra has to happen on the other side. You have to leave room for the story to grow unexpectedly.


Do Things That Excite You

I write all the time. I get up every morning not knowing what I’m going to do. I usually have a perception around dawn when I wake up. I have what I call the theater of morning inside my head, all these voices talking to me. When they come up with a good metaphor, then I jump out of bed and trap them before they’re gone. That’s the whole secret: to do things that excite you.


It Needs to Be Funny from Start to Finish

I was always terrified that people would read only halfway through a sentence and not be amused, so I tried to have jokes everywhere. I would worry that it wasn’t getting there quickly enough. That’s always the advice I give people who send me humor to consider: it needs to be funny from start to finish. I just never had the confidence to take my time, to build slowly. I’m too insecure a writer.


Fiction Is the Best Way to Say Things

Fiction, for me at least, is the best way to say things. I can be much more clear-minded if I allow my imagination to take the lead—never loosing the reins, of course, but at full gallop. I also believe that, if you are fortunate, you can access the unconscious through fiction; in my case, elaborate ideas emerge in a very organized manner. Fiction for me is a way of “writing what you don’t know about what you know,” to quote Grace Paley.