I feel like all fantasy writers need giant swords at the ready. It’s a business expense, right? Research? Matthew Newman’s approach to writing fantasy is a form of fan fiction for his own life. What a great way to approach storytelling.
Who are you?
My name is Matthew Newman, business development and marketing professional by day, and fantasy writer by night. I’m based in New York City.
What do you write?
I’d like to think my writing is the type any person can absorb and enjoy, regardless of age, education level, or ability to focus. It’s the type of style you can read on a crowded subway just as easily as you would curled up in front of a fireplace at home. I started writing in this style because of the stories I absorbed when I was younger, when I realized I enjoyed writing the same type of content I enjoyed reading and watching. The first genuine story I wrote was fanfiction based on the anime series Yu-Gi-Oh!, one that saw me inserted into the plot as a key part of the cast. It was fun, simple, but also had enough depth to make one think about the world around them (at least that’s what eight-year-old me thought).
I love what I do with every fiber of my being, even when I hate it (see: writer’s block, guilt over killing characters, filling in plot holes, etc. etc. etc.). Writing for me is a way to understand the universe, as well as a way to help add an element of fantasy and magic to my own life. My upcoming novel, Kingdom of Ink and Paper, started out as fanfiction of my own high school experience, and many of the events of the novel are modeled after things that actually happened to me (without the magic and swords, of course). Writing gives me a way to live out my greatest dreams and fantasies. In my writing (and frankly, any story), I can be anyone I want, or do anything. There’s a lot of power in written words, and I think that’s a really incredible thing.
Where do you write?
I have two primary locations where I write. If I want to be inspired, I write in my living room, where I have a large window that overlooks Manhattan’s Financial District and the World Trade Center. If I’m trying to be productive and crank something out (a chapter I’ve been neglecting, an essay, or anything that requires focus), I’ll write in my bedroom with my work displayed on a large monitor on my desk. I suppose I feel inspired there too, since I have a medieval weaponry collection that hangs next to it. In either case, I usually have a Spotify playlist running, either on my television or on a speaker in my room. The go-to playlists are either “Ambient Piano” or a generic movie soundtrack.
I have two notebooks that I always have with me: both are made of faux leather, one light and one dark. The light notebook is where I keep business notes, such as for publicity, social media, or other technical to-dos. The dark notebook is where I make notes about plot: story arcs, outlines, character descriptions, you name it. I always try to have that notebook nearby no matter what I’m doing, but I especially need them next to me when I’m actually working on something. I’m also incredibly particular about the pens I use. They have to be gel, ideally a thicker tip, because there’s just something so incredibly satisfying about seeing ink flow across a page. And pencils? Forget about it. They’re banned from my apartment.
When do you write?
A typical writing session will see me sitting down in the day’s environment, whether that’s my couch, a café, a park bench, etc. The park bench is rare — I’m a night owl, and my best ideas come after 9PM. I’ll have my coffee or tea next to me, my headphones in, and my plot notebook open next to me. I then open the last thing I was working on and get cracking.
I write chronologically. Everyone has a different style and pace, and I need to write in the order the story happens. I’ve never enjoyed skipping around to different periods in the plot and then pushing them together. The only time that isn’t the case is when I’m starting a completely new project; I usually save writing the first chapter for when I’m a few dozen pages in, so the story has had time to marinate and come to life.
I try to write every day, even if it’s just for a little bit. Not only is it important for me to make sure I’m continually making progress on my projects, but it’s also important for me to keep equilibrium within myself. I feel a need to write as I feel a need to breathe, and as a result, a day without writing is just as toxic as a day without water.
That said, I try not to set goals for daily sessions. I do have overall progress goals that I set for myself months in advance to keep me on track, but to me, nothing is worse than trying to force words when the inspiration is not there. I’m a storyteller, and I recognize that’s my strength more than the power of my prose. I’m no Faulkner, and that’s okay. I’m not the type of person who will spend an entire day trying to determine where a single comma goes, or typing out one specific paragraph to get the tone right. I sit down in my environment, with coffee and notebooks in hand, and then try and get the ideas out. When I feel myself begin to lose that focus, it’s when I know the time has come to wrap up for the day.
Why do you write?
Thomas Wolfe once said, “Loneliness is and always has been the central and inevitable experience of every man.” In short, I want to become a storyteller who is able to provide comfort to those who are lonely, those who are lost, and those who need to escape the trappings of everyday life for just a little while to absorb a fantasy.
This, of course, is driven by an experience I myself had when I was young. When I was ten years old, I was bullied pretty aggressively, and wasn’t sure how to cope until I was gifted a book by my fifth-grade teacher. The novel, Marlfox by Brian Jacques — the 11th novel in the Redwall series — was a story that gave me comfort like nothing ever had before, and it irrevocably changed my life path. Upon reading it, I fell in love with Jacques’s vivid world, a place that was described so spectacularly I felt like I was a part of the adventure. The characters flew off the pages, becoming beings I felt as if I knew, like they were a part of my own life. The book so deeply moved me, so fundamentally changed me, that I knew from that moment I wanted to be a writer. I was able to make friends more easily, brush off the bullying, and become a person I was confident in and proud to be.
That said, books and their authors can have long lasting impacts that even the readers aren’t aware of. In 2011, Brian Jacques passed away unexpectedly. It was here, when I was a teenager, sitting in my parents’ bonus room, I found myself sobbing over the death of a man I had never met. How was it possible I could show so many emotions over a person who I had only known through ink on a page?
Writing — that was the answer. And that’s why I write. It was in this moment I realized just how powerful words could be, and just how much of a positive impact I could have on the world merely through stories I already wanted to tell. Any desire, thought, or consideration of doing anything else with my life was immediately erased, and my way forward was clear. Brian Jacques was able to write stories so engrossing, so captivating and inspiring, that he motivated me to not only be a writer, but also motivated an entire life path. I write for the fifth grader being bullied; I write for the young artist who needs inspiration; I write for the person who needs an escape and needs to experience what the love of a good story can really do.
How do you overcome writer’s block?
When I was in sixth grade, I was in the early stages of writing my first novel, a medieval fantasy story. A few chapters into the book saw the protagonist trapped in a cave while an enemy army was laying siege to it. I had gotten the story to this point, and was frustrated because while I had a vague idea of what I wanted to happen in the long-term, I wasn’t sure how to progress from this particular scene.
I was bemoaning my writer’s block to my childhood best friend, complaining that I had no idea where the story was going to go, or what was going to happen to James Draven. When I was done, my friend asked me a crucial question:
“Do they spend the rest of the book in the cave?”
“No, of course not,” I replied, aghast. What kind of writer would I be if I kept the main character stuck in some dingy old cave for an entire novel?
“Well then, you need to get them out of the cave.”
Get them out of the cave. What an incredible concept, something so obvious and brilliant. For me, my writer’s block is cured by thinking about the passage of time, and how characters react to this passage. What are they going to do next? Are they trapped somewhere? Are they thinking through a problem? Like the writers themselves, all characters have motivations and personalities that are going to lead them to make choices. I put myself in the character’s brain and think about what I would do next if I were in their shoes, and that usually gives me the next steps to the story. It’s then up to me to follow those steps and see where they take me.
If that doesn’t work, I follow some of the traditional paths to curing writer’s block: I meditate. I pace around my apartment, usually listening to a film or television show soundtrack. If I’m seeking inspiration, I’ll reread a few choice paragraphs from Harry Potter or watch an episode of a favorite television show to help get my creative juices flowing. But the first question I ask myself is always, “How do I get them out of the cave?”
Bonus: What do you enjoy doing when not writing?
I love the outdoors, so anything that gets me outside is a wonderful distraction. Whether it’s going upstate to go on a long hike, going on a backpacking excursion out west, or merely taking a picnic blanket and sprawling it out in Central Park, being in the fresh air is rejuvenating and refreshing. That said, there are certain indoor activities I’d never pass up (at least in a pre-pandemic time): museums are a big love of mine, and I’m a sucker for the Museum of Natural History and The Met in particular. Concerts as well. I’m a big music person (I’ve played the saxophone longer than I’ve been writing) and really love seeing artists live, whether they’re at a hole-in-the-wall jazz club or a big name at Barclays.