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Absorb Your Surroundings

July 14, 2009 | 6 Comments

Dear Mr. Keillor,

I'm a young man searching for his purpose, having chosen higher education as his route (education and history major, thank you very much). While I've given my life to the study of the past, my soul belongs to fiction. I wanted to know; how did you find your voice? Where did you get the confidence to speak and write not just with, but in your own style? Like most young writers, I'm my own harshest critic: how can I weather the doldrums of my own insecurities and break into fiction?

Adam M

Don't work too hard at finding your voice. Find the voices of other people first — people around you, your family, the silent people taken for granted, the people who ride the bus to work, the misfits — see if you can get the interior voice of one of them down on paper, and keep trying until you think you've broken through. This is the doorway to fiction, and it starts with inspired journalism. Listening to people and trying to imagine them speaking openly and honestly in the recesses of their souls. As you are able to bring other people to the page, you'll find more and more confidence, and your style will emerge. Writers are people who write, not people who think about writing, and the less you dwell on your own insecurities, the better. Distract yourself by taking notes. Absorb your surroundings — they are stranger than they may seem, and you'll realize that when you put them down on paper.


This is excellent advice. And if you feel blocked, try writing a play. Or a scene from a play. Just dialogue with a few simple stage directions. It's a great way to overcome the urge to bury your story in overblown prose.

that was really great advice! I particularly appreciate the suggestion to take notes and observe. I've could have spared myself many torutured hours if I'd been a bit less self absorbed and more aware of the world and goings on around me!

That's good advice.

I'm saving this exchange for my creative writing class. Hope you don't mind!

I agree with the reply. By looking out at the world we see bits of our own reflection.

Fiction? Egads! Truth is far stranger.

Writers DO think about writing. When they write about writing it's "belle lettres".

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