blackbirdonline journalSpring 2022  Vol. 21  No. 1
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A Conversation with Raven Leilani
Conducted by VCU MFA students on November 10, 2021

Kayleigh Hughes: I love the book so much for a million reasons, including the prose and the really unexpected way that the plotting happens. How did that plot develop for you? How did you start? Did you start with the character? Did you start with the relationship? How did it come about?

Raven Leilani: I definitely started with the person in the relationship. For me, writing Edie, I knew that I wanted to write about art. I knew I wanted to write about that sort of dissonance between her outside and her inside. And so, I was in her mind, kind of, immediately. Previous projects that didn’t pan out—they kind of didn’t pan out because I wrote myself into corners. I didn’t fly by the seat of my pants and I didn’t plan too much and I still don’t have like a really intense or intricate “master document.” But the thing that changed for me was, before I went in, I had a sort of skeleton on how I wanted the book to go. One thing I do when I’m really paralyzed or I’m in a project and I don’t know how to move forward is I write in scenes. I go for as long as that scene takes to end and I keep doing that until I find an end. But mostly, I had a teacher who was the one who kind of helped me do this, and before I met him, I was doing that thing that I mentioned before where I would write toward the feeling, which is important, but it was sort of an amorphous. Those drafts had no shape, no real kind of thrust. But how he taught me to kind of structure was what is—and I do think it’s important to write for yourself—what’s exciting for you? And I did think about the reader as I was writing. The question I always had was what are they reading toward or what kind of question am I trying to resolve? And so, that helped me feel like there was something propelling me through. I’d also place moments. You start a thing and you have maybe a word or a thing you want to get out on the page, and there’s a lot of space in between those moments that you’re writing toward. For me, maintaining that momentum was knowing that I was headed, even if it was far away, headed toward a moment that was going to be exciting to write. There are bits in between that feel less exciting, you know? And so, if I knew that I was writing toward like one of those moments, one of those words, I was able to get through, but saying that, I had to let the draft change, too. I actually thought I knew how it was going to end, which is rare for me. And then, I was halfway through and I realized that the ending was different. And I’m glad I listened to that, because it didn’t particularly work. So, I would say, have something that you are kind of writing toward, either for you that feels good to be writing toward, but potentially for your reader. What are they turning the page for? Also, be open to your draft changing and surprising you. I think that’s one of the more painful things to, you know, feel and accept, but that is sort of how I made my way through.

Katy Scarlett: Something that I just was thrilled by throughout the book was the physicality and Edie’s search for embodiment. And it came up in so many ways, big and small, like through the sex scenes, even her just trying to learn when am I thirsty, when am I hungry, traveling public transportation, to the issues of physical safety that come up with Akila and the cop being violent with her. So, I guess I just wonder as a writer, what was it like for you to be that tuned in physically to her and her process? And did it ever feel vulnerable or overwhelming to you in any way?

RL: I mean, it definitely all felt extremely vulnerable. I feel like I’m most vulnerable when I’m drafting, which is part of why I have to be totally alone when I’m writing. I usually just write in my room. That, too, was something I learned from a teacher I had, whenever we’d go through my drafts, is that I feel inclined to write toward consciousness. And that I think is given to an abstract kind of writing. And that’s fine, I think a book that is total consciousness has merit and a book that is totally concrete has merit. But we would look at my drafts together and he would tell me the places where he felt adrift, where he felt lost, where he felt disconnected. And that was often happening because I, for a long time, kind of lapsed into this sort of more abstract construction of the book. And so, in the structural and practical way, the physicality was meant to remind you of where you are in space and to assert the kind of reality of her body. I think that too was just important to me—to write a character where she’s hungry and she’s thirsty and she wants to have sex, and she can’t have sex, she can’t eat, she can’t shit. All of that is important. I think along with her kind of ruminations, I wanted that litany of interruptions to exist as they do in actual life. That felt important in writing a Black woman, that felt important because those two things exist alongside each other. Going to get a sandwich and feeling the kind of peril of your body, the absurdity of all those things existing at once. I wanted to create somehow that feeling of overwhelm. And so, I needed the physicality to be there but also, it just felt important in the project where I wanted to be honest, to write about the parts that felt kind of ugly. And so much of the body stuff is private stuff you do when you’re in a room by yourself. And that might just be me as a writer, wanting to connect with other people who might see that and feel that recognition. But yeah, that was how it was functioning for me.

Justin Wafawanaka: In the book, we see the structure as long paragraphs of beautiful prose. Interiority, observation about the characters and such with dialogue coming in sparingly, but specifically and in a very, very useful manner. What was the process of going through that kind of structure?

RL: I would say that I am absolutely just inclined toward that kind of density and that speed. Those are the texts that really speak to me and it is really kind of tricky to structure. And there are moments when I’m in the middle of a jag like that, and I’m wondering: Will they be with me? Will they be with me? And so, I want to be honest about the weirdness sometimes, I was actually just talking about Ginsberg’s “Howl,” which is a poem that I was really, really obsessed with when I was in undergrad. And I think what excited me about that poem was the recording of him reading it but also the text that exists in two different spaces, but you still feel the momentum and the build, which is really exciting to me about writing. And when I’m doing that, I’m always trying to create that energy that is hopefully leading to some sort of climax. And with dialogue—it’s funny, you mentioned that the dialogue is in there in like a spare way—and that’s just because I really, really struggle with dialogue. Because I have like earlier drafts of this book that exist with bigger sections of dialogue where I’m struggling to get the characters to say what they need to say and struggling to switch registers. So that’s one way I try to play to my strengths, which is that I have a little less dialogue, a little more of those dense walls of prose that really like, in other books, excite me and that feel good. And as I’m writing, that’s always what I’m looking for—that thing that feels right and exciting. That’s the space for it when you’re drafting, you come back, and you sharpen it. Ultimately, the objective is connection. And so, I do think that it’s worth talking about: the level of indulgence that you have in a project. But for me, it’s about the language that’s exciting. Speed is exciting. That momentum is exciting. And time, too, is such an abstract thing, which is another thing that I struggle with: how do I convey a certain amount of time passing? It gives me crazy amounts of anxiety. And that’s just one way I’ve found around it, which is to just hurdle through space and give the sensation of that time.

KH: Following up on that question, those big chunks of prose that have that momentum and vibrancy and energy are what I always respond to the most, as well. And I was wondering if you had much pushback, either in workshops or in getting this book published, to that type of writing? Because I think there’s a lot of support for “more dialogue, more action—don’t have full pages that are just blocks of prose,” but, at the same time, it’s stuff like that that makes me vibrate.

RL: Yeah. Vibrate is the perfect word to describe writing toward that feeling. Absolutely. I think that there are so many different schools of thought around the function of something that is constructed that way. There are books out there that are the opposite of that—they’re spare and kind of distilled, which I think is a very hard thing to do. It’s very hard thing to do like a lot with very little, and to have some kind of economy around that. But I’m also really moved by abundance. It’s funny, I have this thing in my head—and that’s what happens when you go to workshop: you keep the things that people say—and I had a note that was essentially that that kind of writing is like a form of tap dancing . . . And do you want to be tap dancing for the reader? And I was like, well, yeah, you kind of want to give them a shout. And I think that we want to connect, you want substance there, but I think I feel a kind of warmth toward that substance that has some bells and whistles. I think a criticism that is extremely valid is: “is this for something?” That’s a question that’s always worth asking. “Even if it feels good? What is this for?” The “for” can be because it’s beautiful, because it feels good, but there were moments where I was in the middle of doing one of those and I realized that I would look at my own draft and not be able to tell entirely why I was doing when I was doing, and I think that is something that was worth looking at. So, I would go in and just try to mean it a little more. Because you can get caught up in that and end up writing something that’s pretty but also empty. And so, for me, it was trying to find that balance between the beauty and meaning it. So yeah, I got those critiques and many of them were helpful because you’re inside it. you’re inside your draft. It’s useful to have eyes that are not yours.

Ty Phelps: I’m curious about your revision process. Did you complete a whole first draft and then wade fully back in, making edits as you go? How nitty-gritty, sentence-level was it?

RL: Extremely nitty-gritty, extremely sentence-level. And that’s actually, to be honest, one of the more frustrating things about my particular process. I really feel kind of envy about writers who can put the draft down, and it’s rough. And inevitably, when I finish the first draft, it’s still quite dirty and rough, but as I’m writing, I’m editing. As I’m writing, I’m listening. It’s really mostly listening, and when it doesn’t sound right or doesn’t feel right, and I can’t even articulate what’s wrong with it, I just can’t go on. I wish I could. And I kind of have to stick with it and figure it out, see the rhythm of it and why it’s not working. And then I move to the next sentence, and then the same thing, and then the next sentence, like each sentence is like that because of the way that I read and write. I read very slowly, and I write very slowly because of that, because of the way everything just feels like a sort of puzzle. Someone said something to me recently about a writer who was talked about her prose as a kind of jigsaw puzzle, like everything had to kind of be in place or it can’t move to the next place. And I feel that way, as I write, that the foundation has to be so sturdy, before I can build on top of it. And so, my editing process is slow, and I do it as I go.

Thom Didato: Given that that’s your editing process, once it reached the stage of agent/editor, was it bigger picture items that they were talking about? Or was it like, “No, this is good to go?”

RL: The book that exists now is actually quite close to the first draft. I don’t feel comfortable saying it was a first draft because I was editing like that, but it is very close to it and there were more macro edits around like motivation and clarifying. But those edits were more geared toward externalizing the things that were still mostly inside of me that I kind of assumed were in the draft. Things like elaboration and establishing time is, on all fronts, a problem for me—creating the concept of it, letting my reader know that it’s passing at all—that was one of the bigger things in edits. Letting my reader know what day is it, what month is it, how much time has passed, you can just say that. It was more about structure, more about the interiors that I hadn’t really fully externalized in a book that is mostly concerned with one consciousness, and also, total reordering. The first paragraph in the book was the third paragraph originally, and my editor wanted me to place it in the beginning, she just knew, and she was right. To this day, people come up to me and mention “that line that you begin with,” and she knew. So yeah, it’s mainly just that reordering, that structure, and the more macro stuff.

Brenna Camping: I’m curious about your time in the MFA and specifically how both your cohort and your faculty affected the writing of this book.

RL: In a big, major way. I had just moved there to do my MFA and I was working full time. But when I was in DC before I moved back [to NYC], I was writing after work, and I managed to write two full books that I really thought I meant. And then, I had like a really significant workshop, and I was talking with one of my teachers, and he asked more like emotional questions around why I was doing what I was doing, why I was writing what I was writing. And I went home, and I looked at the draft that I had, and I couldn’t answer those questions really and that disturbed me. So, I started a new book. And that atmosphere, that cohort and instruction was hugely important to me when I was beginning to even write that book. And then, you find your readers, too. Not everybody in the room is going to be a reader, but you do find them. They understand what you’re doing, they interact with your work in a way where they’re not trying to make it anything else, they understand what you’re trying to do and they want to get it there. That helped, that helped. I remember bringing in the first couple of chapters to workshop and I knew my readers were my readers when we got into a whole conversation around why, in these millennial stories, there’s so much disco. And there were people who just understood that. And so, it was like, you have people there who affirm you and who also challenge you when you don’t mean it enough. So yeah, I wouldn’t have written it without having gone.

KH: I think that your voice is so specific and the style of writing that you have is so specific, like the tumbling sentences and the run-on sentences that you have that build momentum and this energy, like you said. And I imagine some of that is just because of what compels you and feels good to you, but I wonder how it also informs this specific book and this specific character of Edie.

RL: Yeah, I knew I was writing kind of a desperate character. I knew I was writing a character who exists in a specific kind of precarity. And there is the element where it’s like this is the way I like to write. This is what feels good but also it felt like the right form for that need, that void, that churning, and also the anger. When I was writing in the beginning stages and talking to people about what it was about—which is not something that I normally do, because I don’t really, really know what it is until I’m really deep—I knew that there was this longing and yearning, which was important to me, but fury was deeply what was the heart of this book. And so, I knew that it needed to hurdle. I felt that that was the right kind of register, and also there’s so much about her like wanting to be touched, wanting to have sex, and having contradictory feelings around her body and the sex that she’s having or not having. And that too, that register felt like the appropriate one for that kind of specific thirst. And absence, because so much of the book is her wanting to have sex and not having sex. And so, I think that longing, that kind of really spiky longing, it felt like that desperation had to take that form.

JW: You see a lot of the things in the book be addressed like race in nice, profound ways. I remember that in one section of the book, you address older Black folk who dealt with racism, and it’s like my worries and concerns are offensive compared to them. So, I was wondering, writing a Black character—do you feel a certain obligation to address race in a certain way or not?

RL: I have so many feelings about this. I want for us to have the real estate to write books where we write about marital dissolution in the suburbs, we write about what it’s like to go to Comic-Con, and there’s an aspect of this question that is very much about the market in publishing and the specific hunger for a familiar narrative that puts race at the center, but also like very much in the past in a way that doesn’t sort of address the experience that is more present that has a complicated nuance that does not make anyone involved feel good. I’m writing a Black woman and I am a Black woman. And so, that’s one sort of thing that I came up against when I was talking to other Black writers as I was drafting, which was some people felt like you had to talk about it, and other people felt like freedom was being able to tell the story where she just goes to Comic-Con. For me, she’s a Black woman, so she’s at these two intersections moving through the world. She’s going about her job, she’s trying to find intimacy, and all of those things are coinciding with that subjugation of her body and the weight that that constantly has on her psyche. And so, it felt like it would have been dishonest to kind of allied that. And so, as I was writing, I did feel mostly the responsibility to write away from respectability, because that, too, is a kind of prison and an arm of racism that I wanted to write more about. I wanted to write about the quiet parts. Not the kind of overt parts that that feel like easiest to kind of categorize. And in writing that, it was extremely difficult because to write about the quiet parts, the parts that feel more subliminal, you have to personally do a lot of work around what you feel like you’re seeing with your own eyes, but also what we’re kind of conditioned to mistrust. And so, the part that you’re talking about, where she’s thinking about older people in her community who have seen worse and been through like a kind of different brutality is that kind of friction that I felt between those generational experiences of understanding that you have benefited from. These fights that they’ve had and what they’ve endured, that you’re kind of experiencing a different and more insidious kind of racism that does affect the way you can go about life, but that is connected despite the progress that they’ve earned with their bodies. So, it was a deeply complicated thing, but ultimately, I knew the truthful thing was to write about and to write truly about the quiet parts.

TP: One of the reasons the novel is so successful is that it seems like it’s about everything. It’s about age and class and gender and New York and being young. How did you not get lost in all this stuff? It’s really an amazingly buoyant book for how many complex things are going on in there.

RL: I think that that also didn’t feel entirely conscious. I wrote toward my preoccupations. So, I think writing about a young Black woman who’s trying to make art, you’re writing about who gets to make art. So, you’re writing about you, writing about class, you’re reading about work. You’re writing about what it means to make art between work. You’re writing about what she encounters professionally. They’re writing about Black woman who’s making art but also seeking intimacy. You’re writing about those interpersonal details that also draw those questions. You’re writing, too, about what’s on the other side of that of that trying. And the joy, too, is also important. I don’t subscribe to that kind of oppressive optimism: “don’t write about anything ugly.” That’s the sort of thing that I feel like we were just talking about. Any marginalized group that I think has tried to write honestly about their experience will see this kind of push-back against the idea of airing out dirty laundry, and that is extremely limiting. And so, as I was writing, I wrote about joy, not because I felt a discomfort with the ugliness that’s there, but because that, too, exists. And so, then you have the other parts. You have like a disco, you have the Comic-Con, like you have the painting. And then you have me, as an author, shoehorning in all of these things that I’m secretly obsessed with that I want to write about in the book. And so, I think that all of that’s in there. Partly, because at the core of the book, all of those things felt organic that came out. But also, as I was writing, my emotional psychological state was like: I have to put everything in there, so it’s that too.

Jack Brisson: I’m really curious—were there any books that lived next to your computer while you were typing? I was reading an interview with Marlon James, and he said he keeps a copy of Beloved while he was drafting his novel. Was there a Beloved-type book that lived there on your desk as you were writing?

RL: The first thing I think of when you say that is Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Slaying Holofernes, so there are pieces of art that I loved that drove me through, and that I’d always wanted to write about. And the books—a lot of them were poetry, because they understand economy and abundance in a really profound way that I’m always trying to execute in my prose. So, Morgan Parker’s book, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé, is the actual book, but her poem, “ALL THEY WANT IS MY MONEY MY PUSSY MY BLOOD.” That was one of the poems that I was constantly looking at. I was really, really deep into Ottessa Moshfegh as I was writing, too. I think her prose is so filthy and so mean, and I really dig that. But also, as I was trying to channel it, I wanted to channel a kind of warmth. And so, I was listening to a lot of disco music. I had a former teacher who wanted me to share what I listen to when I write, because I always listen to music when I write. I put it on and he listened to thirty seconds of it, and he shut it off and was like, “You could write four books if you didn’t do this.” So, I listen to a lot of metal because I like the propulsion it channels. So, for me, everything I had around me had that ethos.

KS: Going back to the part about the art and the story, I just loved that storyline with Edie starting out denying that part of herself, which I think is partially because it’s not economically feasible for her in the beginning, and then sort of accepting and exploring herself as an artist as the novel goes on. And I wondered if you, as a writer, related to that kind of process at all and if you were sort of writing that into her character?

RL: Very much. It’s almost a direct channel. As I was writing this book, I was in that. I had just moved to New York with my partner, and I was working full time and I was in school full time and trying to write the book. I had a lot of personal things happening with my family, and I was just really, really exhausted the entire time that I was writing this book. I was both wired and exhausted because I was just frantic to get it out. And that had always been the way I’d been writing. Where it was after work, in those hours where I’d technically like to be eating dinner, but I just couldn’t because I had no time and the work felt like it was slow and invisible. So, that aspect of it was very much like I was writing toward that frustration where there’s something inside you and you can’t get it out, and the reason you can’t get it out is partly self-sabotage and doubt, which is normal and natural, but also like these systemic and economic questions that affect your ability to kind of just sit down and bang out a draft or a painting. And I actually started with painting, it was the first thing I ever thought I would do. And it was the first thing that I’d really, really failed at, and I remember very clearly those series of failures and how devastating it was to realize those kind of limits of your artistic powers. It’s a dark place, and I wanted to write about that. I had been trying to get published for those five years and I was writing short fiction, I was writing poetry, and I was getting rejected a lot, and that’s just part of it. I actually still have all of the rejection letters, and it was constant. I’d look at my email: rejection, rejection. And I remember the first year it really hurt, and then the four years after that I was like: “this is just a part of it.” And so, I wanted to write about failure, rejection, and their real crucial part in artmaking. And so, as I was writing, it was very much craft, but also what you bring to the text, and that’s what I was bringing, which was like this frantic thought of, I want to get this out and I need to figure out how I’m going to grapple with my personal limits, and these feelings of frustration around things that are not me, that are preventing me from doing this. And I wanted to write about what it means to return back to your tools, and find your material, how good all of that feels after the machine isn’t as oiled as it was.

JW: Considering the personal nature of the story, I always believed that the protagonists are slight or major representations of the author. How much did you put yourself into the story and were you worried that you would put too much of yourself into the protagonist?

RL: I can’t be coy, honestly, there’s so much of me in there and there’s so much of my obsession in there and my family. Actually, when the book came out, my family had read it, and I got these calls from my aunts and uncles who were like: “I know that’s Uncle Pierre; I know that’s Uncle Ivan.” There are things in there that are very close to the bone. I mean, it is absolutely fiction, because you get to play around with it in a different way, you get to hide behind it in a different way, and you get to be incorrect in a different way. But yeah, I mean, I’m definitely in there. I feel that separation should be allowed to exist, you know. But I was in a state in which I was writing it, and I perhaps could have taken more care of it, to create a different separation, but I just didn’t. It’s the only place where this is true for me, but in writing and drafting it even though you feel judgment and frustration, I don’t feel ashamed when I draft—that came later. And so, I just wasn’t even thinking about that when I was in there, and I’m still in there now, I guess, but that feels okay. It was what happened when I tried to tell the story honestly.

TP: Since the book has been published, what’s been the most exciting thing? What’s been the most fun, other than things like this?

RL: The answer is this. The answer is that you put your art into the world and depending on how you meant it . . . I know that some people write and it’s completely for them, but I didn’t want this to be completely for me. As I wrote it, I wrote with a certain kind of privacy and excitement that was just me and the page, but I wrote it because I wanted to connect, and I wanted people to read it and feel something and feel things in there that are recognizable. And so, when it was out in the world, and people are reading it, even critical readings of it, that felt so good. It feels really good to be engaged with seriously. And also, it is absolutely wild when people come up to your book and see things in there that you didn’t see, and that happens a lot, and that is scary but very cool. That’s the best part, being read like that. Because I do think that was part of why I did it, because I wanted to connect and then be seen in that way and have people say, “Yeah, me too.” So, that is the coolest part.

JW: I’ve heard that HBO picked this up and wants to create a show. Congratulations! When you first heard about it getting picked up by HBO, what was it like seeing your work supported to that level? And do you have creative control over the series itself, or do you have to leave that to other people?

RL: That felt crazy. In fact, I think it wasn’t until the news was out that I believed that was going to happen, because that world is so alien to me. But it was, for a lot of people in my life, the thing that they could recognize was good. I think that was the first time where my mom was like: “Oh, this is really happening.” And so, that felt really good. I know some writers who are currently going through it, they need creative control which is, I’m learning, harder to get. They don’t want an inexperienced debut writer steering the ship. No one really wants to join a project unless there’s someone there at the helm that they trust. And so, it is a real fight to get artistic control. I wasn’t really interested in that in general. I have friends who’ve written memoirs that are being adapted and that’s a different thing. I was talking to her, and she was like, “Well, it’s my life. So, if someone else writes it and messes it up, they’ve messed up my life.” For me, it’s funny, I’m so totally precious as I’m writing, but after I’m done, it’s like I feel like the job is done. It feels like I’ve done the thing; I’ve removed the thing from myself. And so, when the question came up about whether or not I wanted to be extremely involved, I was just kind of at the end of a book tour and I was like, “No, I want to go back to my hole, where I’m comfortable, and write something else.” And so, I have some creative control, but I feel kind of relieved that it’s in hands that I trust. The woman who’s sort of at the helm is a playwright, and she’s really, really lovely and brilliant. But I’m excited for it to be something else, in this different medium. I mean, I could put a pin in that because I’m still at the very beginning of the process. I’m learning a lot. And who knows? It might come out and be totally different from what I wrote. And it might feel differently than what I think it’ll feel like now. But, for me, the thing that I wanted to do has happened—for the book to be out in the world and all the rest of the interpretations that come from it. It’s readers who are reading it or someone who is adapting it, and I’m just excited to see what they can pull from it. And I’m happy to recede to my most natural state, which is to just be writing, be inside fiction again.

KH: You mentioned shame, which is my favorite topic. You said you don’t feel shame when you draft, but it does come later. Can you talk about that experience?

RL: Yeah. That’s always been something that I’ve been able to lock into—that shame-free place around writing—because for me, writing started as this escape. Writing started as stimulation, I was a really solitary kid, perhaps a lonely one, and I’m still a solitary person. So, when I was growing up, writing was how I was going to create excitement for the day. This is the world I’m going to live in, instead of the other one that is dull and lonely. So, because I started there and started there very young, the id came first. I think when you’re really young, there’s a moment before you start judging yourself, before you become self-conscious. And I managed to maintain that when I return. To be totally honest with you, that slightly changed post-publication, that kind of exposure has been something that I’ve had to navigate to get back there. But the sort of shamelessness of that space feels like something that I immediately lock into and something that feels good, because I, as a person—not writing—I’m quite controlled. And that is the way that my primary mode of releasing all of that manic energy that I kind of have naturally. But the after comes because the audience comes after, and I’ve always been a little bit uncomfortable with that feeling. But the good is better than the feeling of like: Oh my God, people are looking at me and what did they think about? The dominant feeling is that people are connecting with you, and I think if you’re writing about that private shit, you’re writing about the parts that feel specific and strange, and you feel like other people might be scared to see the private things you do. Those are always the moments where people come up to you, and they’re like: “Well, yeah, I also do that. I also feel that.” I think my favorite function of art is the kind of voyeurism. So, as I’m writing, I’m trying to reproduce that. That’s how it is for me. It’s just not present when I’m in it. And if it’s present after it, it’s something that I can deal with, because I’ve done my job. I’m writing toward the private thing.

Celia Cummiskey: You’ve mentioned writing yourself into corners while drafting and how you realized the ending of Luster was going to be different mid-way through that process. I was wondering, when you’re drafting and so vulnerable, how you kind of unstuck yourself from that situation?

RL: How I unstuck myself is I read poetry. There are two minds I have, which is that you grind through it, which can work, but I also think it’s not entirely realistic as you’re drafting. Sometimes you have to just not look at it, you have to step away and rest, and come to it with fresh eyes that are less married to the concept you originally came in with. So, it’s stepping away, and it’s so hard. Even what feels like a great sentence is so hard to get rid of. You’ve got the phrasing just right and it took forever to get that, and you find yourself trying to recycle those words back, and it just isn’t working. You kind of have to sweat through it, do that trial-and-error process—how much can I save?—and sometimes it’s nothing, and it hurts. For me, I’ll always go through it, even if I know rationally, it’s time to throw it away. I have to go through the trying of “maybe here; maybe there.” Then you step away, and you come back a little less married to that idea and start again. Everything that I’ve ever written that I felt was good, there were a million “starting again” moments. So that’s what I do.  

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