September 25, 2018

Writing advice: Michael Bible


I love a good literary interview. The sort that deep-dives into a tell-all conversation between one or more authors that eventually leads to conclusions like “this worked for me, maybe it will for you” and “I have no idea what I’m doing, I’m as scared as you.” It’s reassuring to read about some of the most talented writers working today struggling with the same demon, the lone demon that haunts every single writer: productivity, getting the words down on the page. 

Michael Bible, author of the recently released Empire of Light, and Sophia, the latter of which received a starred Publishers Weekly review and was deemed a PW pick, writes deeply heartfelt and heavy books that happen to be really short. Like under 150 pages short. Think the power of Alehandro Zambra or Cesar Aira in terms of brevity, but Bible’s voice cuts into something undeniable: there’s an urgency to his prose.

What might Bible have to offer us with regards to writing? Let’s take a look.

1. Try writing right after sleep or meditation to “cut out” any doubt or internal editing.

“I meditate a lot before or after I write. I’ve tried different sleeping patterns: waking up in the middle of the night or waking up really early. Writing then or late at night. Our minds are very powerful weird things. If we can bend them into different states and try and produce something in those states, that interests me. It’s a quasi-scientific sort of way that interests me.”

2. “Free” the line.

“I like to break paragraphs like that; it lets those last lines echo.”

3. It’s not about how many words, but rather how the words work.

“I think of a page as a white space. The sheet is kind of like a curtain to play on. You can play in it; jump in time and space. You can kind of go anywhere you want. I like writers like David Markson, and the later books by Samuel Beckett. Even stuff like Li Po. Poets like that. They work in that mode. A strip down kind of mode that will allow you to move around and let you go anywhere you want.”

4. Leave an impression: pay extra attention to the last line of a scene, chapter, or paragraph.

“I play with those last lines of paragraphs a lot. You can take the reader on a journey—then just when they think they can see where you’re going, you jerk them out of that reality. If you end a paragraph with dissonance it can color what’s come before in an interesting way.”

5. Think less, trust your instinct, and react to what shows up on the page.

“I put one sentence down and then another. And then the characters start talking. At some point I want to make everything crystal clear. Samuel Beckett talks about writing in no-style at all. I don’t really have any philosophy other than that. Just now, a girl walking across the street was yelling into her phone, ‘Mom, you crossed the line again’ — there’s a whole story in that.”

Michael Seidlinger is the Library and Academic Marketing Manager at Melville House.