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a writer answers readers’ questions

July 17, 2009

There really doesn’t seem to be anything that a certain portion of the population likes more than musing over the type of Hello Kitty mechanical pencil Hemingway used to pen The Sun Also Rises.  Sometimes, these wonderings come in the form of a Q & A with a not very well known author, since the more famous the writer the less they want to talk about their method.  This is probably because most writers have absolutely no idea how they do it, which really takes the A out of “Q & A.” 

Here a writer answers readers’ questions:

Do you only write when you have something to say?  Or are you one of those writers (and I use the term loosely here) who doesn’t even wait for a direct line from God and instead forces themselves to sit down and write every day like it’s their job or something?

-Jane Adams, Bethesda, Maryland

Writers don’t like to admit this Jane, but it’s important never to force yourself to write.  Genius should not be restricted, and if more people took a cue from writers and worked only when truly inspired, the authors of the world wouldn’t be the only geniuses around.  If only more nurses could say, “You know, I just don’t feel inspired to insert this catheter today,” imagine what catheter insertion might become.  It would be like the difference between James Frey lying about catheter insertion in a memoir about his life as an ICU nurse, and Hunter S. Thompson actually becoming an ICU nurse and then writing about it in a novella entitled, “Fear and Loathing in the Mayo Clinic.”   

Real writers still use typewriters right?

-Aaron Burrill, Kalispell, Montana

Of course real writers use typewriters.  It’s important to stay true to the old masters, and really what’s more fun than doing so on a word processing machine without a delete button?  But what is even more real than a typewriter is a sharp bit of rock and a sandy beach.  Did you know that Kerouac wrote the entirety of On The Road on a beach during low tide?  Revision is for journalists.  Real writers do it in pen. 

What is the ideal soundtrack to your writing?

-Charlie Dean, San Francisco, California


What is a typical day for you?

Callie Pfeiffer, Langley, Washington

I like to get up early so I can work for several hours uninterrupted before my kids start bugging me to feed them scraps from last night’s Cup O’ Noodles.  Virginia Woolf talks a lot about a room of one’s own, but I did Virginia one better and made it a house of my own.  The kids and my husband sleep on the lawn in tents, and wear surgical masks when they come inside during visiting hours, since they know how important it is that mommy not get the flu that they seem to always be coming down with, especially in December.  We live in Iowa, so it can get pretty cold in the winter, but we all know it’s worth it to be within driving distance of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.  When I sit down to write everything needs to be just so, which is why my husband gets up at 4am every morning to fix my fresh goat milk latte with a teddy graham float.  He is also in charge of pre-warming the keys of my Underwood Five typewriter, by strapping our kitten, Ahab, to them for 10 minutes each morning.  Once Ahab is removed and put back in his box to wait for the next warming session, I am ready to work.  At this point I engage in some breathing exercises and a brief cry before placing my fingers on the keys and typing the alphabet three and a half times.  At this point I’m ready to get to work on my shopping list.

I’ve heard that writing fiction is more difficult than non-fiction.  How does this compare to your experience?

-Jen Smith, Eugene, Oregon

Ann Patchett once told me that compared to writing a novel writing non-fiction is like making a shopping list.  She didn’t actually say this to me, but one time when I was hiding behind a bush on the Iowa campus, I think she walked past me.  I read this quote later in one of her books, and simply merged the two memories in my mind.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that there’s no difference between fiction and non-fiction if you don’t think about what either of those words mean.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Thomas permalink
    October 18, 2009 5:31 pm

    RE: the great typewriter debate.

    I actually heard someone have the typewriter conversation and the american spirit conversation once. Apparently a teacher in my high school also took issue with the unnecessary technology that had butted into our writing practices but he only accepted things in pen because it was the point of equilibrium between technological efficiency and elegance.

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