- What is your first memory of writing for fun?
I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember. In third grade, I got a puffy-covered diary with a lock on it for my birthday. We lived in the Shenandoah Valley of the Blue Ridge Mountains at the time, and I would take the diary out into the woods near our house and write truly awful poetry with one of those ballpoint pens with different colored inks. But the first time I realized how truly fun writing could be was in high school. I edited my school’s newspaper and I wrote an op-ed about something—the shitty school lunches? I can’t remember—but I do remember reading Kurt Vonnegut at the time, and how my older brother told me to channel Vonnegut and exploit the details and the humor of the scene I was describing. In that moment I learned how fun it could be developing a specific voice for a story.
- How many drafts = done?
I write many, many drafts. I have a Seussical system for naming them. I’ve also developed a system where I create an “outtakes” draft for each new draft and this is where I cut and paste sentences or paragraphs or ideas that I’m on the fence about keeping. Sometimes they find a home again in the piece, but more often than not I realize I don’t need them. I never feel done. An editor or a deadline usually forces me to stop.
- What is your favorite book or favorite book-of-the-moment?
A favorite book that I always recommend: So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell
A craft book that I’m enjoying right now: The Hidden Machinery: Essays on Writing by Margot Livesey
My favorite book of the moment: Know the Mother by Desiree Cooper
The books I tend to re-read: Most everything by Annie Dillard and Joan Didion.
- What is it about your discipline that gets you the most excited?
I’m a curious person by nature and I love that writing gives me an infrastructure for that curiosity. I can got where my interests take me. I used to believe that I needed to be one type of writer—I started my career as a journalist—but now I feel the freedom to go where a story takes me, and that can take the form of journalism, essay, creative nonfiction, fiction. I think of E.B. White, who was a novelist, a journalist, a children’s book author, an essayist. White went where his curiosity took him.
- What’s your favorite word or words? What about it/them appeals to you?
I love muscular verbs that sound like their action. One example: Sluice
I also think a lot about jargon, about how words are overused and rendered meaningless. Words like: luxury and innovative for example. I marvel at their loss of power. They’re like a sno-cone that’s been sucked free of the flavored juice and reduced to bland nothingness. We’re a culture that loves to suck the worth out of a thing and discard it for something new, even our language, even our words. One of my favorite Emerson quotes is about how we must “pierce this rotten diction and fasten words again to visible things.”
Thank you, Elizabeth! We can’t wait to hear you and our other wonderful readers next week. Don’t miss Elizabeth and our awesome lineup on Tuesday, December 13th at 7pm at Charmington’s Cafe. Share the facebook event, attend, do all the things, don’t miss out.
The team at Writers & Words is about to head out to the woods for our second writing retreat, this time in partnership with our friends at Ink Press Productions. Come out on Tuesday for tales from The Woods!