I write poetry and fiction as well as nonfiction, but the essay must have a hold on me because I return to it again and again. At its best, the form combines an intimate, confiding voice with a quality I’ll call spaciousness. The essay makes room for any kind of curiosity. For me, that’s an irresistible lure. Essays allow us to air our uncertainties and argue with ourselves, to puzzle things out, to loosen the knot of unknowing. This attraction to dialectic may be the only lasting effect of all my training in philosophy.Read more
Why do I write what I do?
From the start, I’m in trouble. Just look at that pesky question. Not “Why do I write?” —which would be bad enough, but also fair enough; after all, why does anyone write, particularly in a culture that undervalues the arts? But why do I write what I do.
How should I know? howls my inner whingeing brat.
It’s a cliché to say our material chooses us. Yet it does choose us. Ditto form, which grows out of the material.
So the simple answer, I guess, is that I write what I write because that’s what’s given to me to write. And how it’s given to me to write it.
And I write in the first place because I have to. Writing is as necessary as light or air. It’s my way of seeing, my path to understanding.Read more
Tyee Bridge: How about your favourite part of the writing process?
The beginning, when an idea crosses the line of vision like a shooting star, or a stray feather – and makes your heart beat faster and your fingers itch for a keyboard or a pen. Then later, the editing, where you’re tightening the language and you discover things you didn’t know were there.
Kim Jernigan: This poem seems to come out of a particular kind of sensory receptivity. How do you court poems or essays? Or do they court you? What is your writerly process?
It relies on sensory receptivity, or sense memory, I guess. But it began as formal experiment. I’ve always been inspired by form and structure. When I’m blocked or stuck for a subject, the surest way to find it is through experimenting with a new form.Read more
Vanessa Herman: For you what makes good creative nonfiction? If you could name an essential element, what would that be?
I’m excited by the flexibility and capaciousness of this genre. As Annie Dillard famously said, you can do anything in creative nonfiction—anything at all. That’s why it can be tough to isolate any one essential quality. What’s necessary to one kind of piece won’t be crucial to another. Having said that, it’s possible to generalize about a few things. Great creative nonfiction exhibits the same qualities as great writing in any other genre: command of the language, sensitivity to rhythm, pattern, sound. Sharp characterizations, structural integrity, deep feeling, original ideas.Read more
Having read all these stories, do you have tips, any dos and don’ts for story writers?
The only real rule in writing is to do what works—and to keep on trying until it does work. Persist. Persist. Persist.Read more
Sarah Tsiang:What inspires you to write when you’re feeling stuck?
Also, words. Reading something I truly love.Read more
Julija Sukys: Tell me about how you came to be an essayist, and what you think the form has to offer.
Is the essay my form? Actually, I write fiction and poetry, too. It’s just that, in general, I’ve been less satisfied with my work in those genres and haven’t published as much of it (see above). But you’re onto something, because I think I’m an essayist by temperament and inclination. A born questioner and self-questioner.
Melissa Krone: Do you still have the book you stole from the library as a child?
I do. Or rather, my mother does. At least I think she does. I left it at her place decades ago, when I moved out. I intend to steal it again on my next visit. My daughter’s just about the right age for it now.Read more
Marita Dachsel: Which writing-mothers do you admire and why?
I cast my historical vote for George Eliot. She may never have given birth to a child, but she didn’t let biology or her restrictive Victorian upbringing interfere with the range of her love. To her partner George Henry Lewes’s children, she became a beloved “Mutter” – someone they depended on for her warm and sagacious counsel.Read more
“The title of one of Alice Munro’s books — Who Do You Think You Are? — was a phrase I regularly heard in my family home. That was reassuring, in a way, because it was something that I knew. It was also inspiring: she came from that and she was a writer, so I could be, too. And Emily of the New Moon by L. M. Montgomery. That was one of my favourite books: the story of a girl who wants to be a writer. And later, The Diviners, the story of an artist as a young woman.
“And then there’s Margaret Atwood, who does it all and just keeps doing it, making it look like the easiest thing in the world. How could a girl not want to be writer?”Read more
rob mcclennan: Laptop or desktop?
I like a laptop. But I have a desktop.
And a notebook, with a Pilot Techpoint pen. Right now the notebook is one I got as a gift at the Ottawa Writers’ Festival last fall. My cat, who enjoys eating paper – preferably important paper – has gnawed the corner off it.Read more