who defines inspiration as
"gnawing, nagging creative pressure combined with curiosity"
who gives advice on falling in love with a writer
"Like a would-be employer, ask for a writing sample"
and how she used her own fiction as research for her own life.
(PLUS: Her best writerly take-home advice.)
Here we go...
I despise the pervasive myth of inspiration – the idea that an entire book can exist simply because of an accumulation of inspired ideas – but I don’t deny that inspiration exists. There are things that have no other explanation. Was there a singular moment of inspiration for this book?
For me, the impetus to write a book was less inspiration and more gnawing, nagging creative pressure combined with curiosity. The only way to know if you can write a novel or not is to try to write a novel. I’d been thinking about it for a long time and was dying to know. So I spent a while at the beginning thinking about what I might want to write a novel about and suffering over all these pretty sentences constantly forming themselves in my head with no plot to tell. The first inspiration moment wasn’t the plot but the point -- my very strong sense that family looks all sorts of ways, that there are lots of wonderful ways to be a family that don’t look like mom+dad+baby=family. My second inspiration moment was the realization that plot can start pinpoint small as long as it has someplace -- a point, an idea! -- to go and good characters told through good writing to get it there.
What’s your advice to someone who’s fallen in love with a writer?
Like a would-be employer, ask for a writing sample. If it’s good writing, it’s a good call; if it’s self indulgent shit, get out quick.
What's your advice to a writer who's looking for a lifelong partner? Any particularly useful traits to suggest in said partner? (Do you want to tell us a brief love story here?)
You want someone who will support you in all the important ways (financial, emotional, editorial), someone who says, “Quit your job and write instead. I’ll gladly support you for a while because I know you can do it and feel that you must because you’re smart and talented and awesome.” When you feel like a total hopeless hack, this person assures you that you rock. When you are a total hopeless hack, this person rereads your manuscript for the fortieth time without complaint and fixes it. I must admit though to winning the husband lottery, so this is a little like asking someone who got rich playing Powerball for money advice and being told it’s very simple -- just pick the right seven numbers.
Writing Tip #17 for Aspiring Writers – or #47 or #2. Your pick.
Number two. Well, maybe three. Everyone says read a lot. Everyone says write a lot. My tip is to write about what you read. A lot. Every time I finish a book (or go see a play), I write down what I’ve learned from it about writing, what I can try to emulate (or avoid) in my own writing, what works and how, what doesn’t and why. Reading as a reader is not at all the same as reading as a writer, and I find it useful to articulate the latter. I do this
Research. We all have to do it. Sometimes it’s delicious, sometimes brutal. Tell us a tale from the research trenches.
While I was writing my first (and so far only) novel, I was also adopting my first (and so far only) baby. In THE ATLAS OF LOVE, the narrator, Janey, takes on a child not technically related to her as her own. So that was research in reverse -- in many ways it was from Janey, a creation of my own imagination, that I learned just how thoroughly you can love a child not biologically your own. Using fiction as research for life has always been my preferred approach. Using my own fiction as research for my own life was new to me. Then my son came home as I was beginning the first round of edits, so having a new baby in my life became research for the characters in my book having a new baby in theirs. Tell me that’s not hard core research.
If you teach the craft of writing, why do you do it -- other than cash?
I love teaching. I do. I love my students’ enthusiasm for what they’re writing, reading, and learning. I get so excited about this stuff, so it’s nice to have a captive audience to be excited with me. I often find myself giving students advice that’s out of my mouth before I realize 1) Hey, that’s true, and 2) Hey, why am I not doing that? I know things I don’t realize I know, so discussing it in class helps me learn it too. And even though the grading is a bitch, I find that articulating feedback helps me edit my own work -- that skill of reading a piece and then telling someone else what’s working about it and what isn’t and why and how to fix it is such a good practice.
Laurie Frankel lives in Seattle, just up the hill from downtown, with her two-year-old son, her thirtreen-year-old border collie, and her husband (37). Her first novel is THE ATLAS OF LOVE. She teaches writing, literature, and gender studies at the University of Puget Sound. During summers, she writes and is currently at work on novel number two.