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Member Spotlight: David Newhoff

Why is writing important to you and why do you think it’s an important medium for the world? Benjamin Franklin said, “Don’t waste time—that’s the stuff life is made of.” It’s a nice sentiment, but I think he’s wrong. Life is made of words. Civilizations are built on ideas, and ideas cannot exist without words. As I said in this first book about copyright, I am fascinated by the subject of law because law is a literary form playing with live ammo. And to a great extent, one can say the same thing about a novel, a nonfiction work, a poem, or any piece of writing. For all the visual media that seems to dominate modern society, expression through words remains the most potent and enduring force shaping—or even potentially destroying—the world. Why is writing important? It’s what life is made of.

What are your tried and tested remedies to cure writer’s block? I never think of it as writer’s block. Maybe because I have the opposite problem and can bang on for quite some time without necessarily knowing where I’m going. The difficulty will be if the writing is actually good, I may have to “kill my darlings,” as Stephen King would say, and figure out whether what has been written belongs in the project at hand. Fortunately, I find there is rarely a truly wasted bit of writing—just drafts that may become something else or that at least serve to work through some thought that happens to be wandering through in my head. So, I guess my solution to writer’s block is to keep writing. It may be paddling a canoe in the ocean at times, but there’s land eventually.

What is your favorite time to write? I am a morning person. Period. Whether it’s going to be a good writing day or a bad one, it’s going to happen between about 6:00 a.m. and about 1:00 p.m. I would love to maintain the discipline that many writers have and stick to a rigid stop and start time no matter what comes of it, but my life is not nearly ordered enough to allow that. But the best work usually happens between the first and last cups of coffee. And, yeah, I drink a little too much coffee.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received and would like to impart to other writers? Start each day by rewriting what you wrote the day before. I do not follow this advice religiously, especially if the previous day’s work was prolific, but I usually start by at least retyping the last paragraph or two. Not only am I likely to make some revisions in the process, but the most important benefit of this habit is that it’s a very quick way to return to the work after life’s chaos has interrupted it for twelve or more hours. This practice is not always essential, but I have found it is almost always helpful.

What excites you most about being a writer in today’s age? That’s a tough one because I’m a curmudgeon, and excites is not a word that comes to mind. I write because I can’t not, and I occasionally manage to write something that other people seem to want to read. But I do not find writing exciting per se. I also think today’s age (the digital age) presents some daunting challenges for almost anyone in a creative field, including the reasons I became a copyright advocate to oppose the unlicensed exploitation of creative works. Having said that, if turmoil is inspirational to expression, and we can call that exciting, then there is no shortage of excitement today for anyone inspired to express themselves. Presuming to add my voice to all that is like trying out a new joke in a room full of strangers. Could go either way.

David Newhoff’s Who Invented Oscar Wilde?: The Photograph at the Center of Modern American Copyright is out now with Potomac Books.