This is so stupidly obvious, but writers – especially young writers – seem uniformly curious about the methods of other writers. Last week, I was lucky to go and talk to a class of young writers who asked me a bunch of great questions, some of which were really process-specific (“How do you write dialogue?”) while others were more generalized to the artistic life (“How do you stay motivated to write?”).
I have answers to these questions, as I am always up for blathering on about anything to do with writing and process, but I am just as curious as they are, because, as we all know, there is no one method for writing successfully, or we’d all be using it.
There are a great many interviews with authors out there, but I’d say that in general they tend to focus on content rather than method, which is sensible since the idea is to entice someone to buy and read the book that’s under discussion. About this time last year I attended a panel that was ostensibly about writing process and featured a panel of authors, but the moderator was not a writer of fiction, and led the conversation down what I felt were maddeningly irrelevant tangents. Of course I can’t remember these tangents now. But damn. It felt like such a waste of time.
In contrast, let me offer this interview with Jennifer Egan, which turned up on the AV Club recently. This is exactly the kind of very specific, quirky process info that I am always so keen to find:
I write my first draft by hand, at least for fiction. For non-fiction, I write happily on a computer, but for fiction I write by hand, because I’m trying to achieve a kind of thoughtless state, or an unconscious instinctive state. I’m not reading what I write when I wrote. It’s an unconscious outpouring that’s a mess, and it’s many, many steps away from anything anyone would want to read. Creating that way seems to generate the most interesting material for me to work with, though.
I’ve been given an assignment this week to write an essay that is doomed to fail; a project in which the form is insufficient to contain the material… It’s kind of vague, to be honest. I’m not 100 percent sure what it is that I’m going to do. But I think that I’ll experiment with Egan’s fiction method in some way and see what emerges. Because god knows I’m always chasing my unconscious, too, and who knows? Maybe that will work for me.
Apart from novel writing methodologies, though, I just really admire Jennifer Egan and her writing. As an earlier class assignment – just over a month ago, before she won the National Book Award – I sent her a valentine via email. And you know? She emailed me back! It was so cool of her to do. I mean, I was glad to just get the email, but the message was also really generous and encouraging, which means so, so much.
It’s the kind of thing that contributes to my continued motivation. Last week, in fact the day I had to go and talk to the young writers, I got an email rejection for something that I had submitted a SASE for, and I was like, OH GOD NO, I’m going to be rejected twice! Sure enough, the SASE came today and because I am a masochist, I opened and read it. The sting had gone out of it, though—and the letter felt more personal than the email.
And in any case, I’ve still got a bajillion projects underway. My manuscript advisor wrote me a really encouraging note about my novel that I’ve deliberately left sitting out on my desk. And bitches? I’ve got an email from Jennifer Egan, signed Jenny!