October being a month of spooks and haunting spirits, here are three different writers with three different ideas about ‘inner voices’ and the creativity that ‘haunts’ the writing process. Aimee L. Salter posted an interesting article on dealing with inner negativity. Elizabeth Gilbert has a cool idea about the source of her creativity. Connie Willis (CW) once had someone (TW) ask her if she thought a writer was influenced solely by what he/she had done and Connie defended a writer’s ability to think and imagine things from another’s point of view in the exchange below. (full interview here)
TW: I teach creative nonfiction. We try to guess what the author’s bias might be and why we’re being presented with a certain argument and what might have gotten left out, but I don’t often research the writer to see if I can figure out why they wrote the book.
CW: I think the mistake people make is that they don’t see that the inner life and the outer life are two different things. So if you’re writing a book about someone who has an affair, you’ve thought about it. It doesn’t mean you’ve had an affair. And it doesn’t even mean you’re thinking about having an affair, but it could mean you had a friend who had an affair and the effects of that, or you read something that triggered a bunch of ideas. I do think that writing reflects what the writer was thinking about at the time. But not necessarily; you can’t take it to events that were going on in their lives. It’s not a reliable way to look at it.
TW: One of the things that has emerged from my talking to these female writers is that if you write about something domestic in your books, it’s seen as autobiographical. The idea that women can’t write about something that they themselves have not experienced.
CW: I think that there is always that confusion with writers. I’ve heard guys asked that question. Not that particular question, but questions like, “So, did you actually do this?” My favorite question was from a woman who asked, “Have all the things that you wrote about really happened to you?” And I’m like, “I write science fiction, and, yes, it’s all happened to me. I’ve been abducted by aliens. I have lived in the future and in 1348. What do you think?”
People can’t imagine writing about stuff that didn’t happen to them, so they assume that you have done the same thing. It’s hard to sort out. There’s still some discomfort with the idea of women writers. There shouldn’t be. They’re out there in droves.
TW: And we know that women are the majority of readers, too.
CW: Yes. Exactly. But I don’t dwell on that. I’m a person who obsesses about everything, and in fact feels that I’m holding the entire world up, so I can’t fall asleep on a plane because it might crash while I’m not awake and not holding it in the air. So, I am the kind of person who tries very hard to say, “Okay, you can’t do anything about this. Here’s the only thing you can do. Keep writing your books, keep getting your stuff out there, and then let it fend for itself and ignore all the rest of it.” I can’t do anything about how I’m perceived.
And the people who are vastly annoying are the people you notice the most. But I get all the time this wonderful feedback from people who loved the book, it meant something to them the way that books I loved meant something to me, and that’s what I was going for. That’s all you can go for. I think Updike said, “You don’t write for the critics. And you don’t write for the public. You don’t write for the people who can buy hardback books. You write for a ten-year old kid in a public library somewhere in the middle west a hundred years from now.” That’s what you do. And I’m like, excellent. That’s an excellent piece of advice.