In which conditions does your writing come into being/flourish? Does mood play a role?
First of all, I don’t have an office. I don’t have a routine, either. If I’m lucky, I have a few hours in the day that are open to me and that may or may not result in me going to a coffee shop and writing something, or tinkering with something. My books are really written when I displace myself from my daily environment by leaving town for a couple of weeks—to Flagstaff, to Montreal, most recently—and really giving myself the total freedom to immerse myself in the fictional world I’m trying to create. I get more done in ten days than I’d get done in ten months at home.
Which place does writing have in your life? how does it interact/interfere with life, or does life interfere with writing?
I’m not a habitual writer. I never have been. In the days when I wrote poetry—my first love!—I produced very few poems. As for fiction (or nonfiction), it seems that I don’t have the desire to write a lot of it. That’s something I half regret, because why not be prolific? It would certainly be a good career move. But it can’t be helped. When I ponder why this might be the case, I usually conclude that life is to blame—the absorbing demands of family, of teaching, not to mention the political emergency that has characterized American life in recent years and which has captured so much of my energy and attention. But increasingly I arrive at the rather gloomy conclusion that the problem isn’t life. It’s me. I just don’t have a lot of writing in me—writing that passes muster with my inner censor, which is to say, writing that would be deeply interesting to me as opposed to professionally good-enough. That last challenge—finding something of interest to oneself—becomes harder as you grow more experienced and more alert to self-repetition, more sensitive to the problem of making work that is in a deep sense superfluous. But the real challenge is an emotional one. My work may not seem emotional, but I am indeed one of those writers who draws material from the proverbial emotional well, bucket by bucket, and perhaps that is one reason I’m not prolific. I’m exhausted.
Which conditions are detrimental to the right concentration?
Actually starting to write—exiting one’s ordinary consciousness, one’s ordinary preoccupations—is the first hurdle. Then concentration is required to not revert to ordinariness. The only way I successfully do that is by total immersion. I do have a lot of difficulty achieving and sustaining this immersion, and that’s one reason why I invariably use a nicotine product (but not cigarettes, which I quit years ago).
What exactly can a wo/man’s specific ways of perceiving bring to writing?
The reality of the gendered standpoint has been persuasively articulated by the likes of Susan Bordo, and I don’t think I’ve ever doubted that, in pretty much any society, male subjectivity can differ as such from its female counterpart. I’m very wary of essentialist ideas, in any realm, but it must be true as a general proposition that women and men can offer qualities or insights that are peculiar to their social and biological existence as gendered beings. What these offerings might be, I can’t say. I certainly wouldn’t want to devalue a writer who deploys a point of view that differs radically from the autobiographical point of view. We certainly have examples of writers successfully leaping across the so-called gender gap, although I suppose you can’t help noticing, first, that only the very best make it intact to the other side; and second, even if you were to make it safely over, you’d probably be ambushed by ideologues determined to push you into the chasm you’ve just negotiated.
Of course, the wo/man binary contained in this question has come under severe pressure, particularly here in the USA, and no doubt we’ll see more writing that reflects this development. It’ll be interesting to see how that goes.
Is the literary translation of life into stories/poetry/drama somehow an unceasing commitment? Could you give an example of how that works?
I don’t think the commitment need be, or can be, unceasing. It can probably be turned on and off, like intelligence. That said, I do think that you can’t successfully translate life into text without total artistic and emotional commitment. If an author has taken some kind of shortcut, even a little one, you can usually feel it.
Does the unconscious come into play, and if so, how? Could you give an example of how something gestated over a certain time? Do the best passages come (un)intentionally?
The unconscious comes into play whether you want it to or not. I want it to—I count on it to. My ‘thoughts’, my ‘opinions’—in the context of making artistic work, these must be treated with a degree of suspicion. Why? Because opinions and thoughts are, by their very structure, second-hand and banal.
What is the purpose of writing for you?
We already have plenty of books in circulation, certainly enough to be reading and re-reading for a human lifetime. Simply adding to that corpus would seem to be fairly pointless. So I suppose the purpose must be a private one, having to do with private needs.
What should your writing do to the ideal reader? to society?
I’m not sure, on either score. These certainly aren’t questions I ask myself while I’m writing, when my only concern is whether the text I’m making feels right to me. In any case, and to paraphrase Antisthenes, I see readers everywhere, but nowhere do I see your ideal reader.
What is an ideal sentence to you and why? Are there any metaphors which are central to your perception / work?
The word that comes to mind, here, is ‘accurate.’ An accurate sentence is the ideal. Accuracy, in this sense, isn’t (merely) a question of precision—of an achieved state of affairs in which the sentence operates as a satisfactory verbal counterpart, or cutout, of its object. I mean ‘accurate’ in its etymological sense, ‘toward care’ (ad + cura). An accurate sentence tends toward care—of language, of justice, of reality.
If you were to describe the act of writing in one scene, would that be a curse, a relief, bliss, a struggle, or all of these?
All of the above, with only ‘struggle’ as a constant.