Writing Advice from Rainbow Rowell: on Superpowers, Critics, and Cliches


Unauthorized Profiles / Monday, June 4th, 2018

Recently, I read and reviewed Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. Then immediately read and loved her book Carry On. And am now seeking down Eleanor & Park, hoping the librarians will turn a blind eye to my fines for long enough that I can snag a copy.

She writes a lot of romance but, like, good romance. With likable characters who deserve one other. It’s almost painfully uplifting.

Needless to say, I’m really into her work. I also enjoyed her interviews, as she comes across as a fairly down-to-earth author. Here’s some things she has to say about writing (with links to the original interviews):

ON CHOOSING A WRITING SUPERPOWER

“Ohhh… The ability to stop time for everyone else. I feel like I have to disappear into myself to write books. I go away, into my head, for hours and weeks at a time, and I hate that I miss everything. (It’s pretty selfish to want to pause other people, isn’t it?)” The Guardian

Oh, God do I relate to this one. I miss a lot. And everyone in my social life hates me.

ON MUSIC WHILE WRITING

“Yes! I always build character playlists while I’m writing. It’s like a game I play with myself when I’m sitting alone with the manuscript for hours. Sometimes I use a specific song to help keep me inside a scene, even if it takes a few days or weeks to write it. The song becomes an emotional anchor for me. With Eleanor & Park, I listened to a lot of ’80s music—some of that early alternative music that was so exciting to me at the time. But I also listened to a lot of music that just felt like the characters. For Eleanor, that was The Sunset Tree by the Mountain Goats. Also, lots of Modest Mouse. For Park, it was The Cure and The Cure and The Cure. (Robert Smith is definitely Park’s patronus.) Also lots of open- hearted, melodic British music. The Magic Numbers and Badly Drawn Boy.” Book Browse

That’s funny – I absolutely, 100% can’t listen to any music-with-words while I’m writing. Their words get mixed up with mine and it’s just an absolute disaster.

ON WRITING TERRIBLY

“You have to give yourself permission to write something terrible. Just finish it.” Barnes & Noble

Pfft, don’t have to tell me twice.

ON WORLD BUILDING IN FANTASY FICTION

“Anything goes, but you also don’t want your world and your magic to be just like someone else’s. I would think, what sort of magical things are community property, that every fantasy story has? And what is too much like that book I read in sixth grade? I would get stuck and have to remind myself that I don’t really know how the magic works in my favorite fantasy stories. I don’t really know how the Force works, and when George Lucas tried to explain it to me, that was very disappointing. I get really confused if I talk specifically about the magic in Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings.” Time

So true! (I’m so curious about that interaction with George Lucas, btw.)

ON FINISHING BOOKS

“Finish your book before you try to make it perfect. You can paralyze yourself if you worry about getting everything just right. You’ll never finish. Novelicious.com

To quote myself, from before, “Pfft, you don’t have to tell me twice!”

ON FANFICTION

“I think that online fandom is a world dominated by young women — and young women don’t get even basic respect in our culture. So people come to the concept of fanfiction with a lot of cynicism and disdain.
And then, also, fandom really is a complicated, constantly changing thing. It’s hard to define even when you’re in the middle of it. For Professor Piper, it’s just too far out of her world. As I was writing her arguments against writing fanfiction, I could see her perspective. She’s not all wrong.” WH Smith Blog

You know, until I read Fangirl I’d never really thought of fanfiction. It’s really opened up my perception of a whole world of writers out there that I didn’t even know existed.

ON ALWAYS BEING A WRITER

“I’ve always been a writer. Writing is the one thing I’ve always felt most comfortable and confident doing. So I wrote for my high school paper, I wrote for the college paper. I studied journalism and advertising and English. I wrote for the city newspaper, I left that job to write ads, then I started writing fiction.
The big shift for me was fiction-writing, because it was the first time that I was writing for myself – writing what I wanted to write and not getting paid for it,  at least not immediately. That was a very scary thing. And it took an entirely new type of discipline. I had to learn to write even when I wasn’t on deadline.” YALSA, The Hub

ON WRITING IN STARBUCKS

“I wrote three-and-a-half books at Starbucks, because I can’t write in a house with kids in it. Now I have an office in my house, but I still can’t write when they’re here.” The Rumpus

Ya’ll might remember I suggested this same thing in my procrastination post? Get out of that house!

ON CLICHES

“I like them. There’s a reason we keep going back to a cliché. When people say avoid clichés, I think that’s really dumb because clichés function as words. We use it because I know that if I say a cliché you’re going to know exactly what I mean. So if I’m trying to communicate clearly, why wouldn’t I use a cliché? Why wouldn’t I use something that’s going to communicate to you what I’m trying to say? Those things become clichés because they’re so spot-on.” Pop Sugar

Some might say she’s…as right…as rain.

ON CRITICS

“But I don’t go looking for people’s opinions about my books. That’s a short path to insanity. I wrote what I wrote. It’s out there. I hope people like it. I hope they find it. But I’ll never get anything else written if I get too hung up on other people’s judgments.” NCAC.org

Yeah. I mean I’ve never even taken a creative writing course due to my paralyzing fear of judgment.

Thanks for the tips, Rainbow!

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