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This blog was featured on 08/08/2019
R.F. Kuang on Writer's Block, Reading & a Future Beyond Writing
Written by
She Writes
August 2019
Written by
She Writes
August 2019

R.F. Kuang first hit the fantasy scene last year when she released her Chinese history-inspired debut novel The Poppy War.  It was a finalist for Goodreads Choice, Nebula, and Locus awards, and received the Stabby, Crawford, and Compton Crook awards. This month she releases its anticipated sequelThe Dragon Republic, as Rin’s story continues to explore the fallout from a devastating magical conflict, with themes of empire, warfare, shamanism and opium.

Kuang has piqued the interest of fans and other adult fantasy authors not only because of her first book’s success, but because she is an especially young author with no intentions of making writing her career… we will get to that, however, later in this post.

On Twitter she recently wrote:

“I worked REALLY hard on this book. I learned to be a proper writer with this book (instead of winging everything like I did in TPW) @hannahnpbowman [her agent] can attest we basically tore it to pieces and rewrote it multiple times. it came together. and I’m SO EXCITED for y’all to read it!!”

She continued:

“Also, in case you were wondering whether it suffers from second book syndrome: Publisher's Weekly called it brilliant, Wired called it refreshing and shocking, Booklist and Library Journal gave it starred reviews, and it’s on a lot of Best of the Month lists.”

On Process

“My usual routine is to read a couple hun­dred pages in one session, and then jot down two or three things that work for me, or don’t, to see how I can make my writing emulate that. I get writer’s block often because I’m stressed all the time."

She doesn't let writer's block get her down, however. She has discovered what works for her, and relies on her routine to stay motivated.

"My one failsafe way to jumpstart the creative engine is to read 200 pages of really good writing. Then my brain starts thinking about how to imitate those sentence structures. I ask, ‘What can I do in this chapter to make me feel as excited about my own characters as I feel reading this?’”

This excerpt was originally published on Locus Magazine. Read the full interview here.

“I’ve also realized that I write best to music, so I’ve been using project playlists to jumpstart my writing brain on days when I’m not feeling it,” she commented in an interview with Civilian Reader. “Every character and act has its own playlist on Spotify. I sit for a few minutes just listening and try to envision the scene as a music video playing out in my head, and that’s usually enough to get me writing.”

On Reading

You may think you have ambitious reading goals, but Kuang’s self-initiated book challenge might make you do a double-take.

“I try to read as much as I can across all genres, because I think there’s a lot worth learning from every type of author from every type of background. I’m obsessive about it. I have a policy that I have to finish at least 100 books a year. I finish a book every two or three days.”

She continued:

 “I don’t study creative writing (except for a course at Odyssey two years ago), and writers need to constantly refine their craft and learn from other writers. When you don’t have a struc­tured class, the best substitute is to treat books as your teachers.”

This excerpt was originally published on Locus Magazine. Read the full interview here.

On Her Future

“I’ve always enjoyed writing, but it wasn't my childhood dream and I’ve never taken writing as a serious career choice. I still don’t,” she said in an interview with Booknest.

“I’m having a lot of fun writing and I intend to keep writing. But I never want to primarily be an author. Part of this is because I was raised in a strictly disciplined Chinese household. Like, you'd better believe I'm getting a full-time job with health insurance. But I’m also not interested in only being a storyteller. All the stories have to come from somewhere. If I’m not living a complex life, researching complex things, then I worry I won’t have anything to write about. I think the best fiction I’ve ever read had something profound to say about the world. What profound things do I have to say without more life experience? How do I get that without leaving my writing desk?”

With that said, fans can still expect one final book, as Kuang promises a complete Poppy Wars Trilogy.

“I knew exactly how the last scene would end when I started writing the first book, so no need to worry about a series without a conclusion,” she says on her website

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