A writer and dog-walking pal of mine named Chris told me one day in passing about a book she loved called Olive Kitteridge. It took me a while to delve into this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Elizabeth Strout, but from the first page, I was hooked. Little wonder, then that I was excited when I came across an interview with Elizabeth in The Writer (August, 2013). A few highlights:
On creating a complex character like Olive Kitteridge:
“It’s the ability to imagine very deeply. It’s kind of like drilling down. I’ve gotten under the topsoil. Now I’ve got to go under the next layer, and so on. A lot of it is unconscious, but as I try to think of it consciously, it is that sense of continually gong down, down, down. I think that’s one reason it takes me so long to write. I just need to find out more and more and more as I go.”
On orchestrating the conflicts her characters face:
“I mostly do not plan anything in advance. I’m not a planner. I’m not very organized, so I tend to work in scenes and they’re not necessarily in any order at all. What I try to do when I sit down to work, particularly in the first stages of a book, is to write what it is that I’m seeing or feeling most urgently at that moment. And then hope that it will find its way into the overall tapestry — if it doesn’t, it just ends up on the floor.”
On staying with it as a beginning and early-stage writer:
“I know the frustration which never goes away. You want so much to sit down and get it right. You have to learn to tolerate the frustration. You have to be patient and just keep writing. You’re only going to learn by doing it and by reading. You read and you write, and you read and you write. That’s the hard part for beginning writers: having to accept that it may be a long process. Also, you have to be willing to expose yourself — to put your true emotions in your work, or it will be flat. It won’t be something people want to read or find any comfort in reading because it won’t be conveying to them some aspect of the human condition they’ve experienced but don’t know they’ve experienced until they read it — and then they’ll say, ‘Oh, I’ve felt that.'”
Masterful advice from a masterful storyteller. Bravo, Elizabeth! Write on!