Friday, March 25, 2016

The Writing Life: Writers on How They Think and Work

Photo: The book's cover, from its Goodreads photo.

So it occurred to me, genius that I am, that I've been selling short stories and writing novels (notice the difference there), but I don't know any writers. I mean, at all. Harlan Coben once bought be lunch at an agent's conference in Dedham, Massachusetts, and even sat with me to eat (so of course I've bought all of his books since), but that's it. I don't know any writers at all.

Yes, that's a cry for help. Writers, befriend me!

But I almost digress. The point here is that there are questions writers need answered that non-writers can't help with. Like: Where do ideas come from? What happens when your writing chair and desk don't help you produce anymore? How do you deal with the postpartum depression that hits when you finish a novel you've lived with (in my case) for over 20 years? Should I feel badly that I didn't write today? Or this week? Or this month. (Answer: No. Maybe not. And yes.)

You get the idea. I saw this book in the library, after I realized that I didn't have any writer friends (I do have friends--who think I'm nuts for staring at a computer screen or notebook as often as I do--but I don't have any friends who are writers.) and that I didn't have any answers to these questions, and to many more like them. And that I needed some damn solace. So I checked this book out and read it--sporadically, like I write.

Some selections were minor miracles. Some were breakthroughs. A couple were of no interest and I skimmed those. But, just to share a few things:

--The introductions of the writers and of their works, all written by Marie Arana, are just as interesting as the writers' pieces themselves. Sometimes, more so. To whit: "It may have been when Jane Smiley's husband announced he was running off with her dental hygienist in 1996 that Smiley found herself asking the big questions about life, love and work" (387).

--Jimmy Carter writes about how the Presidency bankrupted him. He had a thriving business going when he got elected. He shelved the business, but four years later found that it had accumulated over $1 million in debt. He had to write his first few books just to make enough money to pay off the debts to keep his house. His real, actual house.

--A remarkable number of very successful authors have been "late-life" writers, as Dominick Dunne put it.

--About 90% of the successful writers in this book also have other careers that actually pay the bills. Over 90% of those are professors.

--There are some excellent quotes and thoughts about what writing is. Everyone chronicled here said that writing is a necessary, blessed vocation--with occasionally large drawbacks.

If you're a writer, or if you're interested in writers or writing, you should read this book. I'm going to find it in a bookstore somewhere shortly.

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