Pulitzer-Prize winner Jane Smiley graciously took time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions about writing, the creative process, and the life of an artist.
–When you take a break from writing, is it a full and total break or is your mind constantly parsing the world for fodder?
Writing is part of my regular day, which means that I also ride horses, do business, cook, do errands, travel, teach, socialize, read books, go on Facebook, talk to my husband and children, read the New York Times and the Guardian, etc.
When I am involved in a project, the things I do during the day are lightly filtered through my thoughts about the project, and vice versa, but I am not obsessive, I am mostly curious—would such and such an insight or image fit into the project? If I get a little stuck in what I am writing, which is mostly a failure of energy, I do something else, and almost always, the issue is resolved or I get an idea. If I really get stuck, then I travel to the place where the project is set, or I do some more research, or I go on Google maps and look around.
–How would your advice for new writers differ from advice you would offer writers who have been in the game for a while?
My advice is always the same—keep at it—novelists are tortoises rather than hares. But also read a lot and analyse, for yourself, why other authors’ books that you like work or don’t work. You have to be able to immerse yourself in your own project, but also to step back from it and understand how it is working or not. And then you have to please yourself most of all. Attempting to please others is frustrating and causes you to lose interest in your work—it becomes a job. The advice I would give would depend on the individual writer. I don’t think there are generalizations.
–From your perspective as an author, what do you feel is the biggest challenge to the publishing industry today? Is there a way to solve that challenge?
Publishing is constantly changing, so in that sense, I don’t think the challenges are greater. In some ways, it is easier to get you work to a reader today, though it may not be easier to get paid for it. I am not sure what to advise, because there are so many different audiences. I think you just have to keep trying to get in the door, knowing that doors close and other doors open.
–What books are you currently reading?
Books for a course I am teaching: Queen Sugar, by Natalie Baszile, Station 11, by Emily St. John Mandel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, and The Sign of the Four, by Arthur Conan Doyle (because Doyle and Wilde met at a dinner party when they were, apparently, working on these two books, and I am wondering if they traded any ideas.)
–Which authors do you think are underappreciated in the current market, and why?
I always promote Miklos Banffy’s The Transylvanian Trilogy, because I read it two years ago and loved it for the landscape, the politics, and the psychological insights.
–Finding the discipline to keep writing can be tough. Which “get writing” techniques are most effective for you?
Taking a can of Diet Coke out the the refrigerator and looking into the candy closet.
–Can you offer a sneak peek into your current project?
Check back tomorrow for a review of Smiley’s Pulitzer-Prize winner, A Thousand Acres.
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