Cover Photo: This header shows the cover of Matt Bell's craft book, REFUSE TO BE DONE, next to Matt's headshot.
Photograph courtesy of Matt Bell, book cover via Soho Press

Matt Bell Is a Student (and Teacher) of Writing

In this interview, Ruth Joffre talks with Matt Bell about his new craft book ‘Refuse to Be Done,’ interactive storytelling, building a craft library, and more.

Refuse to Be Done: How to Write and Rewrite a Novel in Three Drafts

Ruth Joffre: In the introduction to , you note that your approach to the three drafts in the book evolved over time, through your own experience. I’m curious: What were you taught about revision when you were starting out, and how did you learn/unlearn/relearn that advice?

RJ: Like many authors of craft books, you chose to write your guide in the second person and speak to a “you” intended to refer to the reader, also a writer. Your tone is conversational, approachable, at times even motivational. When writing the book, did you start writing in the second person? What reading experience do you hope to foster with this approach?

RJ: In reading , it becomes abundantly clear that you have been studying craft books, reading author interviews, and collecting quotes about writing for a long time. When did you start this collection of craft-related materials, and what initially inspired you to do so?

RJ: What single piece of writing advice has been most helpful for you and why?

RJ: Many of the exercises in the book emerged in one way or another from lessons you have devised for your creative writing students. In translating those lessons from in-person and virtual courses to a craft book, did the format and content change? If so, how and why?

Notes on My Dunce Cap

RJ: Craft books and the teaching of craft in general have a tendency to be proscriptive, but in you make a point of saying that the book can be modular, and readers are free to approach the three phases of the novel and the exercises you provide for them out of order. Why was it important to you to do this?

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RJ: While reading, I was struck by the fact that, of the three drafts, the second gets the least attention in terms of pages (only sixteen) and yet could take just as long or longer than the first and third draft, due to the time needed to gain perspective on the manuscript. Can you talk about the choice to keep this chapter short and what you hope readers take away from it?

RJ: You have written a wide variety of books, including novels, story collections, and a book about the video game . When did you start exploring the idea of writing a craft book, and what inspired you to do so?

Refuse to Be Done Maybe I’ll try!

RJ: Aside from , what pieces of art or pop culture outside the literary sphere have taught you the most about craft and why?

RJ: What other craft books and resources would you recommend to those who pick up your book?

The Writer’s Notebook Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style. About Writing The Way of the WriterStory. Steering the CraftPlaying in the DarkCraft in the Real World The Half-Known World Wonderbook13 Ways of Looking at the NovelAppropriate

Ruth Joffre is the author of the story collection Night Beast. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Kenyon Review, Lightspeed, Pleiades, The Florida Review Online, Flash Fiction Online, Wigleaf, Baffling Magazine, and the anthologies Best Microfiction 2021, Unfettered Hexes: Queer Tales of Insatiable Darkness, and Evergreen: Grim Tales & Verses from the Gloomy Northwest. She lives in Seattle, where she serves as Prose Writer-in-Residence at Hugo House.