In today’s Write Now interview, Beth Castrodale describes her novels as taking readers on compelling journies. Gravediggers, road trips, and life-changing corsets prevail to drive her stories forward. I love a good story that takes ordinary people and puts them into extraordinary situations. Learn about these novels and how Beth classifies writer’s block in today’s Write Now interview. Enjoy.
Who are you?
I’m Beth Castrodale, a novelist and book reviewer. I live in Boston, Massachusetts, with my husband and a beloved greyhound. (Visit Beth’s website.)
What do you write?
I’ve been writing fiction since I was a kid. Early in elementary school, I started making up stories to entertain myself. Then I just kept going — with some significant interruptions when I was trying to advance myself professionally, save some money, and pay the bills. Although I’ve published some short stories, in recent years, I’ve devoted most of my time to writing novels.
Whether I’m writing from the perspective of an artist who embarks on a dangerous and truth-revealing road trip (as in I Mean You No Harm), a rocker-turned-gravedigger who’s haunted by a former bandmate’s death (as in my novel In This Ground), or a scandal-fleeing seamstress who invents a life-changing corset (as in my novel Marion Hatley), I hope to bring readers on compelling journeys, both in terms of the plots of my books and the characters’ interior lives.
Although I’ve published a few novels, writing has never ceased being difficult for me. The plus side of this is that when it’s going well, it’s one of the most gratifying things I do.
Where do you write?
For the most part, I write in the library that my husband and I made from an extra bedroom in our apartment. I’m comforted by the presence of books. Also, my computer is situated between two windows, and I love the natural light, as well as the opportunities to stare out at trees, squirrels, or other distractions when I’m struggling with my writing or just need a break.
I don’t use any special tools or software to write. I rely mostly on my aging PC and Google Docs.
When do you write?
I do most of my writing in the morning when I seem to have the most mental energy.
I’m most productive when I can devote at least three uninterrupted hours to writing on a given day, and I’m incredibly fortunate that I have the ability to keep that kind of schedule. Although I wish I could carve some writing time out of, say, the twenty or thirty minutes it takes me to make a trip on the subway, my brain just doesn’t work that way: I need a good chunk of time to get into the writing groove and then craft whatever chapter or scene I’ve set out to work on that day.
I don’t set daily word-count goals for myself. Instead, I set content-related goals, such as, “Finish Chapter X today,” or “By the end of the week, rewrite the X storyline based on reader feedback.” I’m a big maker of checklists and to-do lists.
Why do you write?
As I’ve mentioned, when my writing is going well, it’s one of the most gratifying things I do. Many artists describe being “in the flow,” and for me, those moments can feel transcendent, and at times, perhaps the closest thing to a religious experience that I’ll ever have. Although those moments don’t happen every time I sit down to work on a novel or story, they’re a big reason I’ve kept writing.
Another reason is the simple satisfaction of making progress on a writing project, chapter by chapter or scene by scene. What motivates and inspires me the most is the work of other writers. Even after all these years of reading and writing, I continue to be blown away by certain sentences or passages in others’ work or by whole stories or novels. I take hope from the fact that there seems to be no end to what can be achieved with words and from the fact that talented new voices are emerging all the time.
How do you overcome writer’s block?
I see myself as having two kinds of writer’s block. The first kind is when I get stuck in the middle of a work-in-progress and can’t seem to find a way forward. The second is when I’ve completed work on a book or story and have no clue as to what I might do next.
Fortunately, I’ve usually been able to get through Block Type 1 without too much trouble. Often, just taking a brief break from a piece of writing will do the trick, and it’s not uncommon for me to get a block-breaking idea or insight when I’m away from the computer — taking a walk or something.
Block Type 2 is a trickier beast. Sometimes, it’s lasted long enough that I’ve said to myself, “This might be it for my writing”: a depressing prospect, given how central writing has been to my life; in fact, it’s become a core part of my identity.
One frustrating aspect of this type of block is that forcing myself to sit in front of the computer and put down ideas for storylines or situations seems to backfire and make me feel even more discouraged. Instead, the only thing that has seemed to work is to allow me to take a break until something truly compelling emerges from my subconsciousness — maybe a setting that suggests that something troubling is afoot or an argument between two characters. Unfortunately, there’s no way to conjure or rush this sparking of the mind, for me at least.
Bonus: What do you enjoy doing when not writing?
I enjoy reading, running, visiting with friends, hanging out with my husband, and playing with the dog. I also love a good movie or TV series.