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Jane Smiley's advice for writers

December 29, 2010 | 10:58 am

Jsmiley_2007 Jane Smiley, a Los Angeles native, is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "A Thousand Acres" and, most recently, "Private Life." She's written a dozen novels, including "The Georges and the Jewels" for young adults, plus several nonfiction books and essays and articles that have been published by many outlets, including the Los Angeles Times.

Fictionaut, the website where writers share and discuss works in progress, catches up with Smiley today to ask her for some of her writing tricks. Appealingly, they include candy and naps.

Asked how to get the creative juices flowing when they're stuck, Smiley replies:

Ride a horse. Take a bath. Read something. Eat a piece of candy. Set the clock for an hour and tell yourself you only have to work that long.

And her favorite writing exercises sound a lot like things your mom told you not to do. But Smiley says it's OK: Go ahead and eavesdrop.

Eavesdrop and write it down from memory -- gives you a stronger sense of how people talk and what their concerns are. I love to eavesdrop! Gossip. The more you talk about why people do things, the more ideas you have about how the world works. Write everyday, just to keep in the habit, and remember that whatever you have written is neither as good nor as bad as you think it is. Just keep going, and tell yourself that you will fix it later. Take naps. Often new ideas come together when you are half asleep, but you have to train yourself to remember them.

Find all of Jane Smiley's tips at Fictionaut. The site regularly posts its question series with authors -- called the Fictionaut Five -- on the Fictionaut blog, which is public. Writers interested in participating in the Fictionaut writing community can request an invite to join.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Jane Smiley in 2007. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times