I recently did an online interview with Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine: Asimov’s Q&A.

It’s about my story, Cigarettes and Coffee — which appears in their latest issue — and about writing stuff in general.

Here’s an excerpt:

What is your process?

I don’t have much of a process: it’s more of a practice, and even calling it that probably gives it more credit than it deserves. It boils down to two things:

  1. Try to show up and write more days than I don’t. The best stuff arrives unexpectedly, not as bolts of inspiration, but as slow insights that grow out of the work in ways I can’t predict and generally don’t expect. It’s basically a long process of focused waiting.
  2. Try to be alert to the things my subconscious is saying to me. I’m very bad at this, even though I know most of the good stuff happens down in the subterranean layers of my brain. I don’t have direct access to any of it, so—again—I just have to wait.

I’ve thought a lot about the fickle engine of creativity in my subconscious. I picture it as a closed door, with a mail slot and no handle. Every day I try to slip new material through the slot—interesting conversations I’ve had, scraps of prose from good books, images from good movies. I get no feedback at all; there’s no sign anyone’s on the other side.

Except, sometimes, when I’m writing, the door opens a crack and something flies out. This is easy to miss: it happens so quickly and quietly that, if I’m not paying attention, I might not even notice. And by the time I do, the door’s already closed.

I look at the thing that came out from the other side. It’s usually inscrutable, presented without explanation or context. Maybe it’s an image of a cat looking out the window at an approaching storm; or a scrap of dialog between two crumbling statues; or a glimpse of a woman gently lifting a dead raccoon off the road and putting it in a box.

The trick is recognizing the thing for what it really is: a gift from the secret generative force living in my mind. A key that unlocks a story it wants to give me.

I’ll need to work for it, though. So I pick the thing up, put it on my desk, look at it for a while, and go back to writing.

That’s not a process at all! you might say. That’s just superstition. And you’d be right! There’s a reason writers evoke muses, routines, practices: We don’t really know where any of this stuff comes from. Maybe there’s a god putting ideas in our heads. Maybe they’re messages from our Buddhist non-self, speaking to our illusory self in the only way it can. Maybe they’re just sporadic electrochemical interactions in unexplored regions of our brain.

It doesn’t really matter. All I know is that there’s something behind that door giving me stories. If I believe in that utterly and without evidence, and build an infrastructure around it, and feed it faithfully, and work hard in its shadow—if I do all that, sometimes I manage to write a good story.

You might say: That just sounds like goat sacrifices to pagan gods. You’d be right about that too.