Fiction opens the reader’s eyes to new perspectives and viewpoints. Authors can wield that power for good by giving readers a chance to think about and process difficult situations through their stories. Neal Shusterman does exactly this through his books, giving readers of all ages new ways to explore difficult topics and “make a difference in the world.” I’m really excited that today’s Write Now interview features one of my wife’s favorite authors, Neal Shusterman. His new book, GLEANINGS, is available later this year. Enjoy today’s interview.
Who are you?
I’m Neal Shusterman, author and screenwriter, originally from Brooklyn, New York, but spent most of my adult life in Southern California, and now live in Jacksonville, Florida.
What do you write?
I write stories that make readers think. They’re categorized as Young Adult, but are layered with complex, thought-provoking themes that pique the interest of older readers as well. I like to think and write outside of the box – trying to defy genres, and shatter tired, familiar tropes whenever I can. I don’t find any subject off-limits, and, in fact, I’m drawn to difficult subject matters. The most important thing is to approach hard topics responsibly. I love what I do, even when it’s exhausting – especially when it’s exhausting, because if you don’t feel like you’re being brought to the brink of your own ability, then you’re not growing, and you’re not offering anything new.
Where do you write?
Generally anywhere but home. I have a home office. That’s where I pay bills and do taxes. I like to be out in the world when I write. I tend to get my best work done when I travel, so quarantine was particularly hard for me, creatively. I like to write longhand rather than on a computer. Several reasons for that. First, if I start on the computer then my whole professional life will be in front of a screen. I like to vary it. Second, I love the connection between hand to pen to paper. Lately, I’ve been using a fountain pen, which is fun to write with, so I guess I’m moving backward, technologically speaking. Third, writing longhand gives me an extra draft each time I enter a chapter into the computer (yes, it eventually does get to my laptop, even though it rarely starts there).
When do you write?
Some writers are able to discipline themselves to write x amount of words a day. I was never able to do that. For me, it ebbs and flows. There are times when I’m so creative that I spend entire days hyper-focused on writing. Other days it’s like I can’t get into my head. So, those are the days I work on logistical stuff. I do have deadlines, of course, and do my best to make them, but my publishers would rather have a good book than a fast book. As long as the product meets, or exceeds expectations, they forgive me when I’m late!
Why do you write?
I feel there are things that need to be said, questions that must be asked, perspectives that need to be seen, and I feel it’s my job to do it. It’s not just about writing a good story, it’s about writing a meaningful one. Telling a tale that makes a positive difference in the world, even if it’s in a small way. Challenger Deep opened up new conversations on mental illness. Unwind was a unique look at the “issue behind the issue” of abortion, and the long-term effect of extreme political division. Scythe looked at the consequences of achieving the things we want to achieve as a society. I’m fueled by questions I can’t answer — so I do my best to illuminate the questions from every possible angle.
How do you overcome writer’s block?
Writer’s block is a misnomer. It’s all in how you perceive it. When you begin a project, the writing comes easily. You can’t get the words on the page fast enough. Then it stops. It ALWAYS stops. That’s not writer’s block – THAT’S writing. Writing can be a difficult, gut-wrenching slow slog. But if you call that “writer’s block,” it gives you an excuse not to do the hard work. But if you understand that getting stuck and struggling is a normal, and expected part of the writing process, you’ll always be able to work through it. It just might take a lot longer than you’d like!
Bonus: What do you enjoy doing when not writing?
Well, the thing I enjoy most is traveling and seeing new places. Which didn’t happen during the pandemic, of course. So there was a lot of baking, gardening, streaming, and staring at the walls. I’m a swimmer and try to swim a few hundred laps a week. A lot of my time is spent with my kids. I have four children, all adults now, the youngest of which is just finishing college. As I write this, we’re getting ready for her graduation!
My thanks to Neal Shusterman for today’s interview.