Writers in conversation and interviews with writers are among my favourite things to read on the internet, whether I’ve read their work or not. I’ve been sharing them in my monthly newsletter for the last several months, but there just isn’t enough room for all of them, so I’m sharing some of them here on the the blog.
“As harsh as I can be about my own stuff, I know writing can be worked on. I know it can be improved. I see it every day, as it’s my job to try to help other writers with it — to believe in the potential of a story and believe the necessary words do exist. So when I was most anxious about or frustrated with this book, I would try to remind myself to trust that process.”
Meg Wolitzer and Andre Dubus III exchange emails about the writing process (all the quotes are ADIII’s but the whole thing is worth a read):
“I am constantly in awe that if we just show up to the desk in an open and receptive state, with faith that something will come, something always does. How do I start a book? Slowly, even with that ‘wired excitement and fear’. I’ve noticed that it tends to go better for me, creatively/artistically speaking, if I know very little before I begin.”
“I write like this until I have a beginning, a middle, and an end, trying to find the causality that makes story itself. This can take me three to five years, working five to six days a week. After all that, is when I begin to fully commit myself to the final structure of the book, which means I start cutting sometimes hundreds of pages, and rearranging the sequence of scenes (plotting, as you know), until I finally end up with what feels like the leanest and truest shape of the story. If I do this structuring too early in the composition process, though, I find that I’m prematurely anticipating someone reading all of this, which keeps me from fully surrendering to the story itself, which I know will lead me down paths and whole passages and characters I will ultimately end up cutting.”
“Because this entire act of creating a universe with words, it seems to me, is not about the writer at all, or even — in the first stages of the novel’s creation anyway — the reader; it’s about unearthing and setting into flight these nearly sacred beings called characters, no matter how flawed or reprehensible many of them may be. Blaise Pascal writes: ‘Anything written to please the author is worthless.’ Such a harsh line, but true, I believe. This is not to say that we writers cannot take pleasure in the daily act of writing; I certainly do, and I know you do, too. But it truly does seem to me that if a life of writing creatively is nothing else, it is a sustained act of practiced empathy, where we keep stepping into the question: ‘What’s it like to be you?’”
Barbara Kingsolver and Richard Powers in conversation at a farmhouse in the Appalachian Mountains of southwestern Virginia where BK lives:
BK: “As novelists we’re looking for the universal that makes a reader understand that a human person is a human person regardless of where and when and how.”
RP: “Very few people writing now are as absolutely, viscerally persuasive at the level of the scene and the character and the transactional vignettes while still in the service of grand architecture and a thematic preoccupation that manifests itself in all kinds of ingenious ways across the journey.”
BK: “That’s one of the many things I love about revision: Any weak parts, if their motivations aren’t clear you can back up all the way to the beginning, and you can begin building up motivation right from the start. And you get to connect things across time, across place. I would so much rather revise. I wish I could just pay someone to write my first draft, and then I would just revise.”
Alice Adams asks, Why does anyone write?
“Writing a novel is a painful and bloody process that takes up all your free time, haunts you in the darkest hours of night and generally culminates in a lot of weeping over an ever-growing pile of rejection letters.”
Ursula Le Guin on labels:
“Where I can get prickly and combative is if I’m just called a sci-fi writer. I’m not. I’m a novelist and poet. Don’t shove me into your damn pigeonhole, where I don’t fit, because I’m all over. My tentacles are coming out of the pigeonhole in all directions.”
See also: Labels be damned.