Writing projects feel a lot like if you had a guru and the guru was manipulating you so that you would have to live through certain experiences in order to learn a lesson, but the guru could have also just told you outright, “Here’s the thing you need to learn.” But you wouldn’t learn it unless you spent three years suffering, you know? In a way, I know that I’m the one writing it, but I don’t know if really I’m the one. I believe that there’s a higher power in charge of the imagination.
Maybe… but I think it might be more magical than that. Like being pushed against lessons until you learn them, that’s not always true. Some people are never pushed up against what they need to learn. They live completely in the dark. Why does it have to be so hard?
I think about the passageway of the reader’s mind—what’s happening in the reader’s mind as they’re reading it, but only in the ways that I can control through language. Those are the kinds of things that you think about when you’re writing sentences and moving from one paragraph to the next. “Okay, now I wanna direct the reader’s attention this way.” I feel inspired by the idea that a novel could wake someone up and resonate in a way where they would put the novel down and be like, “Well, shit. How do I go back to lying to myself about X? Because I’ve just seen myself really differently.” That’s what I love about art.
I experience that the most powerfully through narratives, through novels and film. I think it’s because I’m relating to a character, and there’s there’s some alchemy, to use your word, of experience and observation where I’ve sort of forgotten that I’m a real person. If I’m gonna enjoy a book or if a book is gonna be good enough for me to let go of my primary superficial concerns about my identity, then I’m also letting go of my ego while I’m reading it.
Then what’s happening to the character is easier to relate to. I can feel like I’m living vicariously through that character. I mean, this is all pretty obvious. This is why people love narratives, you know? But as the author, I’m not really thinking, “Oh, I want people to be sad here.” I’m thinking, “I want this character to tap into something here.” It’s not like I think of the reader as a puppet, like part of my puppet show, but rather that I’m the reader too.
I just feel like I just have a very deeply agitated body, and that can sometimes provide the impetus for passion. Like, “Oh god, I hate this feeling. Maybe if I can have a spiritual experience through being creative, I’ll feel different.”
I don’t print anything until the book is done. Then I count that as draft one. I’ve been editing it as I go. Most of the writing process feels like editing to me, and all of the actual generating of new words just feels accidental.
Here is a trick that I’ve discovered regarding how I work: I allow myself to just write, like write badly, and then part of the next process is putting similar things together. Like, “Okay, I’m saying this here, but then also saying that here, so let me put those together.” And then, “Are those sentences exactly alike, or are they a development of one another?” Editing is a lot like looking at patterns and organizing things, which is a very different craft element than actually making creative decisions in big-picture ways, which is the stuff that I do when I’m not actually writing. Like when I’m at the grocery store or thinking deeply while I’m driving. That’s when I do that kind of writing.
I can’t really extricate the path from the reality. I don’t know if I would be writing exactly what I’m writing now, but I always wrote things, even way before it was how I made my living. For most of my life I never thought I would publish a book. Then when I was like, “Oh, I should write Eileen.”
It was like I was pretending I was someone else. It didn’t feel like this was really part of my plan, although when I look at the decisions that I made in my life, of course it was. But I wasn’t aspirational.