I talk with Nathan Hill, author of the New York Times bestseller The Nix, a comedic novel about, um, well, the 60s, Norse mythology, video games, love—it's about a lot of things. It's also amazing. I recommend this book constantly. Nathan and I discuss a single sequence of it that's belly-laugh funny and reflects everything he's trying to do as a writer.
It took Nathan 10 years to write The Nix, and he's a great example of what can happen when you overcome your doubts and just keep walking toward your dream. It was not only fun but inspiring to talk with him.
Nathan often reads aloud in the episode, and one of the passages reminded me of the funny-but-sad motif that David Foster Wallace pulled off in Infinite Jest. Nathan said he liked DFW's The Pale King even more. I'm a borderline DFW fanatic but haven't read that book because it was published before DFW could finish the manuscript. On Nathan's recommendation, I'm ordering it now.
We then talk about another author we both love: Virginia Wolfe. Nathan said he re-read the first 10 pages of Mrs. Dalloway countless times as an MFA student, trying to pick apart how she could describe the multiple realities existing within one day in London. For him, Wolfe had "this quality of being a psychic fly on the interior of someone's skull."
We talk about his writing process, and how he learned a trick from Jennifer Egan, author of Pulitzer-winning novel A Visit from the Goon Squad: Write five to seven pages a day. Even when it's bad, just get words on the page, and trust yourself that revisions will correct the terrible language. Nathan said that Egan's advice also keeps him from binging when it's going well and writing more than seven pages. He'll stop himself and, once again, trust that the momentum will continue the next day he sits down.
Egan's advice is similar to something I picked up from Graham Greene: Put 500 new words on the page each day. No more, no less. It's how I wrote my first book inside a year.