Do you try to bang out a first draft quickly and then go back over it, or do you go chapter by chapter, trying to get each one done as perfectly as possible? Which is more helpful?

Oh, the former, for sure. But I used to do the latter and just discovered that it was a really bad process for me. I used to write a little, polish like crazy, write a little more, polish like crazy, and it just wasted so much time. I could never get a sense of what the whole thing was—to the point that once I did have a draft, which would take forever, I would realize, Oh, that thing that I spent so much time polishing, that’s not even going to be a part of the story. It was just a waste of time and energy, and clearly it’s still hard for me to see structure.

You teach creative writing at Princeton. What advice do you give to your young writers?

Adrian Kinloch


My Education

By Susan Choi

Viking, 304 pp., $26.95

I usually just tell them to try to finish a draft. I feel like the most frequent piece of advice I give is just thrash your way through the draft without obsessing over it, just get to the other side and figure out how it works before you start tinkering. And also, a more fundamental thing is my super-hypocritical advice, which is: Write every day. But it’s sincere. I’m always saying to them, “You guys are students, you’re not working full-time, you’re not parents—so try to write every day.” I feel like when I had so much time to write, I wasted it.

Right. Even if it’s just checking in on the draft for an hour.

Yeah, like an hour. I taught a class where the only premise of the class was to write 350 words a day, every day, and you’d be amazed at how much you’ll end up with at the end of three months if you just write 350 words every day. I’ve done it twice now and both times it’s been amazing. And the students are always like, “Are you doing it too, Professor Choi? Are you writing 350 words every day?” And I always start out saying, “Yes! I’m going to do it with you guys.” And then, like the hypocrite that I am, by the end of the semester I’m like, “Well, it really didn’t work out for me, so think about how lucky you are that you were able to!”

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