Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Writing Inspiration: Alice Munro on Writing

 As you've doubtless heard, the Nobel Prize-winning short story writer Alice Munro died this week at the age of 92.   I can't add anything to the obituary except to say her stuff is great; go read it.

The Paris Review has opened access to its interview with her, and there are, not surprisingly, gems in there about the writing life (below, with a few comments):

1. On Henry James: 

Do you ever revise a story after it’s been published? Apparently, before he died, Proust rewrote the first volumes of Remembrance of Things Past.


Yes, and Henry James rewrote simple, understandable stuff so it was obscure and difficult.

Comment: Yes. Yes, he did. THANK you. 

2. On having a regular writing time: 

Have you ever had a specific time to write?


When the kids were little, my time was as soon as they left for school. So I worked very hard in those years. My husband and I owned a bookstore, and even when I was working there, I stayed at home until noon. I was supposed to be doing housework, and I would also do my writing then. Later on, when I wasn’t working everyday in the store, I would write until everybody came home for lunch and then after they went back, probably till about two-thirty, and then I would have a quick cup of coffee and start doing the housework, trying to get it all done before late afternoon. [There's more in the interview.]

3. On notebooks:

You use notebooks?


I have stacks of notebooks that contain this terribly clumsy writing, which is just getting anything down. I often wonder, when I look at these first drafts, if there was any point in doing this at all.

Comment: This totally justifies the three Leuchtterm 1917 notebooks I just ordered by mistake on Amazon. 

4. On creative writing classes: 

Because you didn’t like teaching fiction?


No! It was terrible. This was 1973. York was one of the more radical Canadian universities, yet my class was all male except for one girl who hardly got to speak. They were doing what was fashionable at the time, which had to do with being both incomprehensible and trite; they seemed intolerant of anything else.

Comment: Um. I'll just leave that hanging out there & hope that creative writing classes are no longer like this. 

It was good for me to learn to shout back and express some ideas about writing that I hadn’t sharpened up before, but I didn’t know how to reach them, how not to be an adversary. Maybe I’d know now. But it didn’t seem to have anything to do with writing—more like good training for going into television or something, getting really comfortable with clich├ęs.

 Comment: To the creative writing bros: You want some salve for that burn? 

5. On renting a space to write, as John Updike & others have done:

That seems reminiscent of your early story “The Office”: the woman who rents an office in order to write and is so distracted by her landlord she eventually has to move out.


That was written because of a real experience. I did get an office, and I wasn’t able to write anything there at all—except that story. The landlord did bug me all the time, but even when he stopped I couldn’t work. This has happened anytime I’ve had a setup for writing, an office. . . . So I had all this time, and I was in this office, and I would just sit there thinking. I couldn’t reach anything; I meant to, but it was paralyzing.

6. On her current writing practices:


We didn’t ask you questions about your writing day. How many days a week do you actually write?


I write every morning, seven days a week. I write starting about eight o’clock and finish up around eleven. Then I do other things the rest of the day, unless I do my final draft or something that I want to keep working on then I’ll work all day with little breaks. 


Are you rigid about that schedule, even if there’s a wedding or some other required event?


I am so compulsive that I have a quota of pages. If I know that I am going somewhere on a certain day, I will try to get those extra pages done ahead of time. That’s so compulsive, it’s awful. But I don’t get too far behind, it’s as if I could lose it somehow.

Comment: Tell us the quota! For Updike, it was three pages a day; for Graham Greene, 500 words.  Tell us to inspire/shame us into matching you.

7. And finally, on walking: 

How much do you walk?


Three miles every day, so if I know I’m going to miss a day, I have to make it up. I watched my father go through this same thing. You protect yourself by thinking if you have all these rituals and routines then nothing can get you.

 The entire interview is worth reading, but for now, I have to go walk my three miles so nothing can get me.

Friday, May 10, 2024

Writing inspiration: Clearing the decks for a writing summer

 Grades are in, and as I said over at Dame Eleanor's, I deliberately did not submit to the conferences I usually attend, however shiny they might be. Herewith a few random bullets of writing inspiration (or should I be all modern & say "writing inspo"?) for me to keep in mind:

  1. This is meant to be a writing summer, whether that means doing the #1000words challenge or something else. A sit-and-write group? Already signed up. An accountability group? Same. Let's let them work their magic without conference paper distractions.
  2. Fun fact: the things that have generated the most ideas and the most writing, brainstorming and otherwise, are these: 
  3. Being under the gun to write a conference paper. Q: But wait--didn't you give up conferences for the summer? How's that going to work? A: The stress of that became too much, so I'm trying something different.
    1. Committing to the for brainstorming & putting down any stupid idea that comes into my head, because eventually something useful comes out of it. It's boring until it isn't.
    2. Taking notes or making notes on texts I'm reading, because sooner or later simply summarizing becomes too boring and I branch out into thoughts, questions, speculations, or just plain writing parts of something larger.
  4. So, to sum up point 3: the beginnings of generative writing and getting past writing anxiety come from (1) stress or (2) boredom. I'm choosing boredom over stress and will see how it goes.
  5. Another task (Task B) that is ongoing is kind of low-hanging fruit: it's satisfying because it has to be done, but the time spent on it doesn't translate into writing. Moreover, there's no stress involved with it, so my tendency is to sit with the writing anxiety for a few unbearable minutes and then say, "Oh, I need to work on Task B anyway." Solution? I'm limiting myself to two hours of Task B per day.
  6. Finally, after making pretty much no progress on the next idea I had for a book project, I remembered this axiom from somewhere: Don't write about what you think you ought to write about. Write about what excites you. I've had an idea that excites me for a while now & am going to pursue that. 
Hope your summer goals are off to a good start!