Amazing George Saunders Interview at BOMBlog! Read part 1 and part 2.
Excerpts from part 1:
“I suppose what we’re really trying to develop is the ability to see, at a given moment in a story (stuck there, sick of our own prose, blinded to it by the hours we’ve already spent), all the inherent possibilities, and then choose the one that is most… something. I would tend to say: the one that is most uncommon, i.e., the one that would take the most time/energy/acuity of vision to come up with—the one that is farthest down the trail, so to speak. But I suppose that’s what distinguishes one writer from another: how he/she might complete that sentence: Choose the one that is most (??).”
“What do you think the impulse is for you to create and then give it away? And do you ever question that source or that story or line that strikes you at any given time?”
“As far as “considering the reader”—I’m sure it’s different for every writer. But for me, yes, I am always considering the reader. Although this is admittedly kind of odd: Which reader? On what day? In what mood? For me, that “reader” is actually just me, if I had never read the story before. That is, I’m trying to read/edit as if I have no existing knowledge of the story, no investment in it, no sense of what Herculean effort went into writing page 23, no pretensions as to why the dull patch on page 4 is important for the fireworks that will happen on page 714. I’m essentially just trying to impersonate a first-time reader, who picks up the story and has to decide, at every point, whether to keep going.”
“I have come to see not knowing too much as an advantage, not only in writing but in teaching.”
“one of the challenges of the writing life is to find new things to say and/or new ways to say them. And this is a paradox, because when you write your first book, you actually carve out a great deal of what you’ll end up working with for the rest of your life. And you come to it (or I did, anyway) with this sense of stumbling on a virgin landscape: it’s all new to you. You didn’t know you could sound that way and, having discovered a new way of sounding, there’s suddenly all this new material available to you, i.e., the new voice enabled, or even brought into being, all this stuff that previously you would have felt was sub-literary, or would just have been invisible to you as material. So that’s genuinely exciting. But then there’s the next 60 years to get through (!). A more mundane way of saying it: in your early work, if you’re going deep, you discover your themes, your voice, your (ugh) “concerns.” And if you did it right, you sort of plumbed your own psyche in this very intense way, and there’s no turning back. You made a legit discovery about who you are, and about what things you can do well, and the things you can’t, and maybe about your fundamental relation to the world, about what things you can make come alive, about (maybe most importantly of all) the way your mind works—its pre-inclinations, habits, prejudices, inexplicable fascinations.”
“Now, the hope would be that you’d have this virgin-landscape feeling for every book, but I’m not sure that’s the way the brain is set up. We’d have to see the further books as deeper and more specific forays into that same landscape—so this model suggests, depressingly enough, a gradually shrinking field of play for the writer—a room which is getting smaller and smaller—sort of like that garbage dump scene in Star Wars. My experience of writing is that I had to work very hard to discover a tiny little wedge of talent, and almost immediately became aware that there were certain things I just couldn’t do. So then the challenge became something like: get through the rest of my life while running back and forth on that little wedge of talent, without blatantly repeating myself. (While periodically trying, again, to do those things “I just couldn’t do,” to make sure I still couldn’t do them, just in case). For me, that has meant working pretty slowly, doing a ton of revision, only producing one or two stories a year, walking this fine line between becoming so OCD that I blocked right up vs. writing nice and loose but then producing stuff that wasn’t sufficiently original and had to be thrown away. But, maybe paradoxically, I’m also finding that this tiny wedge o’ talent, or gradually shrinking Star Wars garbage dump (or now I’ll shift metaphors and call it a “ledge of talent”—a ledge which is, let’s say, usually thinning/crumbling away, because much of what you feel inclined to do, you’ve already done) to be a deliriously interesting place to be. Much more interesting then, say, being granted an entirely new mind, and being allowed to write “another” first book.”
Writing is funny. It’s kind of like “farming by Escher.” You can put down perfect seeds, in just the right way, in great weather, and get nothing (i.e., you can have all the time in the world, do a gazillion drafts, and …blah.) Or you can be messing around one day and a seed falls out of your pocket and something really interesting and new grows.
—George Saunders. Read more from Saunders’ interview with Patrick Dacey on BOMBlog.