David L. Robbins' strong approach to writing his novels
Novelist David L. Robbins was interviewed in the February issue of The Writer. He said a couple of things about writing that caught my eye, and may catch yours as well. The intro says this about Robins:
David L. Robbins is one of the most positive and vibrant people you'll ever meet. He's written ten novels, two screenplays and adapted Scorched Earth, his third novel, for the stage. As the son of two World War II veterans (his parents met at Pearl Harbor) and the product of a blue-collar upbringing in Sandston, Va., Robbins has a strong work ethic and optimistic outlook.
Robbins now lives in Richmond and teaches creative writing at Virginia Commonwealth College. To a classroom of new students, the six-foot-six writer is both blunt and effervescent. "Do you want to write?" he asks. "Or do you want to be a writer?" Because they're not the same, he says. Robbins encourages trust in the writing process and in oneself.
New York playwright and screenwriter Doug Wright adapted Scorched Earth, a tale about racial tensions in the contemporary South, for Warner Brothers. Says Wright, "In Scorched Earth, David pulled off a very rare feat: he managed to write a book that was a heart-pounding thriller with all the attributes of the genre—a taut narrative, unexpected twists of fate and a host of suspicious characters—with genuine literary heft. Often his prose is as striking and original as any of our great Southern writers from Faulkner to O'Connor. He's the rarest kind of author: he effortlessly combines commercial viability with high art."
In addition to being a writer and teacher, Robbins is an avid seaman. He spent three summers sailing off the coast of Spain in his youth. "I came to love the great distances of the sea, the moon and the stars, and the vagaries of wind and weather," says Robbins' "No consecutive days on the water are the same." Sailing informs writing, he says, "because both involve staring into a lot of blankness."
What about writer's block at the beginning? You know you want to write, but you've got nothing.
Writer's block is another way of saying "daunted". There are two tricks to get past this. First, climb the mountain by staring at your feet. Don't make your goal reaching the end, finishing a novel. It helps to proceed a day and a page at a time until you become stronger. Simply target a good page or two. Then do that 100 times. Soon enough you'll have a critical mass of pages and the journey begins to ease up.
Next, become a good juggler. A good writer develops the ability to leave several items in the air, somehow in rhythm and under his control, although he's laying hands only on a few items. Work to gain control over the whole, no matter what portion you have in front of you. Then, finally, you must become Atlas. Be able to put the entire unwritten novel on your shoulders, be powerful and confident enough to turn it and examine it, to let it course and develop on its own without losing its boundaries. All this while you are in direct contact with just the smallest part of the story at a time, the created now.
What advice do you have for beginning writers
I want my students to learn that in fiction and non-fiction alike, in any story, everything happens to a character. By that I mean, don't just write action or sex for the sake of themselves; don’t set a scene in a barbershop simply because you worked as a barber once. Everything in a story must reflect something about a character. Integrate place, dialogue, action, all of it not to the story but to a character in the story.
Never jeopardize or complicate the life of a character until the reader loves or hates him, or else there's no attachment, no impact. And I hope my students leave with a self-conscious style. I want them to make decisions about their prose and stories, down to the level of each word. Be aware of your own voice, your personal statement in the language you use and the stories you select. Be able to pick your own writing out of a crowd.