Like most fiction writers I write much that is abandoned. One response to this was to think that I have wasted all this time, but a writer I admire once said to me that “there’s no time wasted writing.” I also have this vivid memory of reading lines by William Faulkner, where he compares the writer’s imagination to a muscle, which must be constantly exercised by the act of writing.

Most writers tell you they must write in the morning, but write whenever you can. In the town I live in I notice that writers and even writing groups write for a specific length of time a few days a week in the coffee shops. I love to watch them write, but I cannot write in public. I mostly write at night, which is not necessarily sound advice.

There is the tendency to write what will please others, or maybe write what will make you look smart or hip, or maybe even write what might make you very popular, but for some reason all this feels fake and boring. But of course we must write exactly what we want to write.

From my notebook:
“The writer and the person are two very separate entities. You think as a person in a way that is not the same as the way you think as a writer.”
– William Trevor

A memory is often what moves me to write. It’s not so much the truth of the memory – the what is happening – but more a compulsion to fully recreate people and places with depth and dimensions. Stories, for me, often spring from these moments, but the further away the material gets from ‘real life’, the better it feels and works as fiction.

All writing isn’t done at the desk. You carry your stories around in your head. You ponder them and then you go against your original plan, in that you change how people act, and what they say. You do this for the sake of the story. And this is a very exciting part of writing. Walking is a good activity for writers.

From my notebook:
“The fundamental experience of the writer is helplessness.”
– Louise Glück

Rereading books that are meaningful is a lifelong pleasure. I believe I write because of these books. Those who have the urge to write fiction will sometimes say that they don’t think they can write because they lack experiences, but reading is often the experience.

I am trying to get to that place where the writing is absolutely absorbing, but I have to be very patient and persistent.

From my notebook:
“19 June. Forget everything. Open the windows. Clear the room. The wind blows through it. You see only its emptiness, you search in every corner and don’t find yourself.”
– Kafka, Diaries (1916)


Patrick_OKeeffe_224Patrick O’Keeffe was born and grew up in Co. Limerick, but moved to the United States in his 20s and now lives and teaches at the University of Michigan. His debut novel The Visitors, about surprising connections between two families and two rivers in Ireland and America, is published by Bloomsbury Circus in paperback and eBook. He is also the author of a collection of four novellas, published as The Hill Road. Read more.