Matt Bell Week: Introduction

A year or two ago I realized that I no longer get writer’s block, or at least not what I used to think writer’s block was. For instance, I never sit down for my day’s writing and produce nothing, nor do I stare at the blank screen, watching the annoying blink of the cursor for hours. Instead, “writer’s block” for me usually just consists of a day where I write nothing worth keeping. A couple hours at the keyboard might produce only a failed few pages of story, or a section of a novel that I know is going to get thrown away, but I almost always get something down.

The worst case of this tends to happen after I’ve just finished a long project—a story that required a lot of work, a book manuscript, or something similarly all-consuming—so that it’s been a long time since I’ve had to start from scratch. The last time this happened was January, right after I finished the manuscript for my second book. That week, I wrote the beginnings of six stories in five days, all of them failures, but failures that I had to write through before I found what became my next, a novel I’m been working on ever since. The other stories all fell apart, for some reason or another: They were too derivative (either of myself or others), too flat as language, too weak a concept to hold together more than a few pages. Most often, I just hadn’t found their voice yet, and I can only proceed so far without that. in the end, they all got put aside, waiting for me to either figure them out or forget about them.

When Adam asked me to put together a week of Everyday Genius, I tried to think of something that a more traditional mode of publishing—submission, acceptance, static presentation—couldn’t accommodate. What I pitched to Adam, and what he helped me refine, was the idea of writing a story live on the internet, beginning with a seeded opening drawn from my own failure files.

Starting today, I’ll be working on a story that I started during this last “writer’s block,” a story that didn’t take off then but that I still think might be worth writing. Monday and Tuesday, I’ll be attempting to write a full draft of the story, starting with only a single paragraph already written. To make it more interesting, you’ll be able to watch as I write, seeing each of my decisions in real-time. The software we’re using—Etherpad—will allow you to see each word I write and delete and rewrite at the same time I do it, and the built-in chat software will allow you and anyone else watching to chat alongside my writing if you choose to.

Monday, I’ll be writing from 12-1pm Eastern Time, and then again from 5-6pm. Tuesday, I'll be writing again at noon. (Normally, I’m a morning writer, but I assume no one wants to get up at 9am to watch someone else write.) Hopefully by that time, I’ll have a working draft of a 2,000 word story or so, after which I’ll step away for a couple days.

Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon, we’ll be switching things up by bringing in two guest writers, who will continue to rewrite and edit my story in whatever way they please—I’ve given them no instructions as to what I’d like them to do, except to improve the story in whatever ways they find possible. Like my days, you’ll be able to watch them live: On Tuesday, Michael Kimball, the author of Dear Everybody, will take over the story starting at 9pm, and then on Wednesday, Lily Hoang, the author most recently of The Evolutionary Revolution, will be rewriting from 1-2pm.

On Thursday, we need your help: The software we’re using allows many people to edit at once, so we’d like to invite the readers of Everyday Genius to participate in this week-long project by taking over the writing duties for the day. We’ll leave the story open for twelve hours this time, from 9am to 9pm, so that everyone can have a chance to participate if they want to.

On Friday, I’ll return to the writing chair myself for one last session, starting at 10am, after which it will be published at Everyday Genius.

Thanks so much for checking out the project, and I hope you’ll be able to stop by during the next few days for some of the above sessions. It’s going to be an interesting and challenging week, and I’m looking forward to your company throughout it.


  1. Can't wait to see how this plays out. You guys are so inventive. (It makes me quite jealous how great this idea is.) I will be here, if at all possible.

    My husband shouts from the next room, "It's the Monty Python Writer's Olympics! 'He's writing, he's writing down a word--and it's THE, folks! He has written the word THE!'"

    Also, I hope someone at EG saves the work after each session... anarchy may ensue and little could be left after the public shredding takes place; and there's always the immature smartass who's going to try to delete the entire textblock.

    Again, can't wait.

  2. Thanks Tracy!

    Yes, I'm going to moderate and remove any unwanted text, and when Matt is done we will post the progress of the story back here, then use that version to begin the next session. It's going to be fun.

  3. this definetly sounds interesting. i can't imagine the pressure of writing in real time with ...dozens of thousands of people waiting with baited breath lol.

  4. Let me say, again, how fun this actually was to watch. Hope to see a rematch with some other authors and play the voyeur once more.