Nathan Englander admitted that he often wears earplugs when he writes—even if no one else is home.
A.J. Jacobs writes while walking on a treadmill. (Talk about multi-tasking!)
Truman Capote famously wrote while lying down. “I am a completely horizontal author,” he said.
nosey interested in what goes on behind other writers’ closed doors, but I’ve honestly never given much thought to my writing habits. Then friend and fellow writer Julia Monroe Martin posed a few questions about the writing process, and I was shocked to discover I had a process.
What are you working on?
My writing interests are primarily fiction—novels and short stories. You know, the kind of lucrative career that has me rubbing elbows with Kim-ye and George in Italy.
Right away, I have to reveal one of my writerly superstitions. I don’t often discuss the details my current writing project, at least not before I’ve completed a first draft. I’m not worried that anyone is going to steal my idea. (I’m superstitious, not paranoid.) For me, talking about it too much takes away some of the magic and mystery before it’s a fully formed thing. What I can say is that I’m in the midst of the first draft of a novel which takes place in the 1920s on the barges and canals of the French countryside.
How does your work differ from others’ work in the same genre?
There is an oft-repeated maxim that there are only seven plot lines and that all stories are simply a variation. (This is usually attributed to Shakespeare, but I can’t confirm. Anyone know?) If there are no original stories, then what makes us keep writing and reading?
I think it’s because we each bring our own perspective to the page. This is never more evident to me than when I’m teaching creative writing. One of my favorite exercises is to give students the same photo and ask them to develop a character sketch. Who are these people? What do they want? What are their deepest secrets? If there are 15 students in the class, there will be 15 wildly different answers to those questions. You’d probably have no idea that the same photos was used as a jumping-off point.
By the very nature of my personal combination of experiences, my story is like my fingerprint—unique to me. But, you’re thinking, we’ve all read stories that seem so tired and overdone. I’d contend that it isn’t necessarily the plot structure we find troublesome. In fact, we find comfort in the familiarity of the structure. (Read: The Power of Myth) Although it may masquerade as a plot issue, we really take exception with a writer who lacks a point of view or voice.
Why do you write what you do?
When I am writing, I am trying to find out who I am, who we are, what we’re capable of, how we feel, how we lose and stand up, and go on from darkness into darkness. I’m trying for that….We have some impulse within us that makes us want to explain ourselves to other human beings. That’s why we paint, that’s why we dare to love someone — because we have the impulse to explain who we are. Not just how tall we are, or thin… but who we are internally… perhaps even spiritually. There’s something, which impels us to show our inner-souls. The more courageous we are, the more we succeed in explaining what we know.
I’ve heard people say they don’t read fiction because it’s not real. I’ve never quite understood this reasoning. (I daresay that these may be the same people who love “reality” television.) What could be more real than, as Maya Angelou so eloquently wrote, exploring the impulse that “makes us want to explain ourselves”?
I also wonder what people mean when they say that they read fiction to escape. I read it to engage. I want to engage in the common human experience that ties me to people of different cultures and time periods. I’ve learned the kind of person I want to be (or not be) in the world by reading about Atticus Finch and Edna Pontellier and Hazel Grace. A good book touches my empathy and compassion. It asks me to use my imagination by taking me through a swarm of fire ants in the Belgian Congo and set me floating down the Mississippi River. It can make me laugh at the preposterous situations Bertie Wooster gets himself into and make me wonder “what if.”
I am indebted to these authors who have shared parts of themselves on the page. Writing may seem like a solitary endeavor, but, every time I open my WIP, I’m connected with them. (See also: muse.)
How does your writing process work?
There are two sides to this question for me. One is the inspiration; the other is the routine. As for the routine, I wake at about 5 a.m. to write before work. Commuting by subway gives me the opportunity to review what I’ve written. I make my notes and edits by hand cuz I’m old school that way. Later that night I transcribe any notes. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. While this process may sound disjointed, it works for me because I like being in touch with my WIP in some way throughout the day.
The most important thing I can tell you about inspiration is a furry muse. The best thing about him is that I never have to wait for him to visit. He’s always there, waiting patiently, sometimes dreaming, sometimes staring, but never demanding.
Thank you to Julia Monroe Martin for including me in this blogfest. Next week, please visit the blogs of two wonderful authors: Cynthia Robertson and Sarah Allen. Cynthia and I share a love for historical fiction. Her book reviews are always spot on and insightful. Her review of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry made me want to run to the bookstore immediately to pick up a copy. Sarah’s enthusiasm and joy are infectious. Whenever I read one of her posts, I am filled with excitement. I can’t wait to get back to my story. She writes about craft, the writing life and marketing. Check out her A-Z challenge of the writing life.
Up next week: my thoughts on attending Book Expo America. Stay tuned!
If you’re a writer, what is your writing process like? If you’re a reader, why do you read?
Have a great weekend, everyone!