1. How did you come up with the overall structure of The Mindful Writer?
The book began as a series of quotes, and I experimented with different ways of arranging the quotes and coming up with responses to them. I tried to let the pattern emerge from the quotes themselves, not to impose one on them. It was only near the end of the project, when I wrote the introduction and came up with my Four Noble Truths of the Writing Life that I began to see that pattern, based on four stages of the writing process.
2. How did you decide which quotes would be used in the book? Which came first: the quotes or your commentary in the chapters?
The quotes definitely came before the commentary, though I began with many more quotes and had to whittle down along the way. It was an intuitive process. I would take a quote that resonated with me on a particular day and start reflecting upon it, writing in response to it, and would save that eventually and go on to another one. I didn’t start at the beginning and work toward the end, because, as I’ve said, the shape of the book was not clear to me until late in the project.
3. What insight on writing and yourself did you gain by writing this book?
I believe the strongest insight was my realization of how much a writer’s ego and misdirected intentions are responsible at times for writer’s block and for wasted time at the desk, and how much letting go of that ego, finding alternate motives and rewards, contributes to productivity.
4. I once heard Ernest J. Gaines say that when his students ask him what does it take to be a writer he tells them to “read, read, read” and “write, write, write.” Do you have a crystallized statement of advice for your students? If so, what is it and how did you come to it? If you do not have such a condensed statement, what is the primary advice that you give young writers?
My advice starts with a question: Do you like playing with words, and sentences, and rearranging them, the way a child enjoys playing with blocks or Legos? If you do, you’ll be a writer. If you don’t -- if the ideas interest you but words and language do not, look for another outlet of expression.
Interviewed by: Hardy Jones