That's why I particularly enjoyed reading Meredith Maran's new book, Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do. Many of these acclaimed authors are people who's work I greatly admire: Isabel Allende, Susan Orlean, Ann Patchett, David Baldacci, Jodi Picoult, and more. Her book also introduced me to writers I was, until then, unfamiliar with--Mary Karr, Jennifer Egan, Kathryn Harrison--and now plan to read.
I was heartened to read that many of these authors who's work I so admire don't outline before they write. This is always a topic of great, and often heated debate, among writers. Isabel Allende says, "When I write a book, I have no idea where it's going. I only know that in a subtle way, a hidden way, I want to have an impact on the reader's heart and mind." That prolific mystery author, Sue Grafton, says, "I write largly by trial and error." Sara Gruen, who wrote the wildly sucessful, Water for Elephants, likes to let a story idea "steep...until the first scene comes to me whole." Being a dedicated "steeper," and non-outliner, I took a great deal of pride in the fact I was in good company!
It's always encouraging (in a weird way) to hear how terrified even hugely successful writers are--as terrified and unconfident as I. David Balcacci, who's sold millions of books, says, "Every time I start a new project, I sit down scared to death I won't be able to bring the magic again." And Sue Grafton describes herself as "a persistant writer, and a terrified one." Do you know how happy that makes me?
All the writers, whether commercial or literary, fiction or non-fiction, agree on why they write: because they have to. It's not for the prizes and honors (although between the 20 interviewed authors, there's a bucketful of them), or the money or fame. It's because they can't not write. Just like me, when they're not writing, they feel cranky, out of sorts, and like a big part of their inner life is missing.
At the end of each author spotlight are tips from the author to writers--tips like:
- "Whether you're writing a novel or a cover letter to a potential agent, shorter is always better." David Baldacci
- "You can only write regularly if you're willing to write badly. You can't write regularly and well." Jennifer Egan.
- "Planning and plotting and research are all fine. But don't just think about writing. Write!" Sara Gruen
- "It's always good to have a motive to get you in the chair. If your motive is money, find another one." Michael Lewis.