• A Compenduhrum of Writing Wisdom, Vol. 1

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Inspiration     Comments 18 comments

    interview-905535__340I have this silly fantasy project in which I would read every single Paris Review interview ever done and compile all of my favorite responses into a rich compendium of writer wisdom and inspiration.

    I’d keep this compendium on my desk and reference it whenever I needed a motivational boost. (I would also sell it and become stupid rich, until I’m sued by the Paris Review and go right back to being stupid and poor.) (These are the kinds of thoughts that prevent me from getting done any real work.)

    I enjoy writer Q&As, when done right. I much prefer in-person or phone interviews, rather than email exchanges, which to me usually come off as unnatural, and often involve the interviewer writing unacceptably long questions, concerned mostly with showcasing his/her own writer wisdom for the reader. Inevitably those questions involve much more I than you. Were I feeling more churlish, I’d cite a few egregious examples.

    (But here’s one, where the first question runs a crisp 296 words, and many of the rest follow suit.)

    [Tweet “”I believe writers should write what they love.” — Stephen Powers”]


    Heal Thyself

    I’m not perfect. I’ve done some bad interviews, and have asked dozens of inane questions of which I’m now embarrassed/ashamed.

    I asked a cult writer if he dreamed of having a bestseller. He scoffed in my face.

    I suggested to another that he writes essays on topical matters only because it helps keep his name “out there,” thereby — in theory — boosting sales of his fiction. He was basically like, “You’re an idiot.”

    I asked one writer if he was a dork in high school. The ensuing pause… well, I can still hear it.

    [Tweet ““I just think that there’s so much untapped creativity in people’s lives.” — Austin Kleon”]


    Shameless Bragging

    But these interviews, awkward as they can be, have given me the chance to share time with some really cool humans, writers I admire and respect and, at times, am even a fanboy of.

    I got to have brunch with George Saunders! Years later, I’m still giddy. Steve Almond and I have talked on the phone, hung out once or twice at events. I’ve gotten to sit down with the likes of Heidi Durrow, Alex Shakar, Molly Gaudry. I’ll be honest, it always made me feel like hot shit when I’d be seen having meals regularly around Austin with Dagoberto Gilb, firing questions at him for some project or another.

    [Tweet “”Anybody [can have] deep and important things to say about the art they love.” — Steve Almond”]



    Anyway. The last time I had this Paris Review fantasy (yesterday), I thought, hey, I’ve interviewed plenty of writers over the past few years; why not start by compiling some of the most interesting responses from my own experiences?

    So that’s what I’m going to do. Starting today, I’ll put together a series of posts that will run occasionally in this space over the next few months consisting of inspirational, insightful, funny and helpful answers to my awkward questions. Hopefully it will be both entertaining and informative.

    Future posts might cover such topics as process, publication, promotion and economics. But since I’ve already prattled on for 400 words, today I’ll just post here a few quick pieces of inspirational writer wisdom from these interviews:


    Sasha Fletcher:

    “I want more than anything for my work to cause people, and especially myself, to feel something. And that is about the same experience I am looking for when I read.”


    Lou Gallo:

    “I got a sudden, horrible glimpse into my own mortality, abruptly, formidably. There’s a Slavic word, litost, which means the sudden realization of one’s degradation. That’s it — I was litosted! … I decided that if I will publish these books ever, it must be NOW.”


    Austin Kleon:

    “I just think that there’s so much untapped creativity in people’s lives — so few of us make anything with our hands, or do things remotely creative these days.”


    Steve Almond:

    “Nobody has the license on reacting to art. Anybody, in other words, has deep and important things to say about the art they love.”


    Heidi Durrow:

    “And then I had a very bad bout of writer’s block. The only writing I could do was journal writing — I was super stuck and whatever confidence I had in my writing abilities before I left my job was suddenly gone … I was having a hard time balancing a very social job with the solitude I needed to write. After a few years I worked through the block, and I realized that I was going to keep getting older, with or without a book.”


    Stephen Powers:

    “I believe writers should write what they love.”


    Molly Gaudry:

    “As a writer, I’m most interested in retellings of familiar tales, particularly when those tales are subverted. Perhaps even more simply, I love drama. And it seems to me that the moment of happily ever after is actually less an ending than it is a beginning. It is where the story really just gets interesting. The rest of their lives! I mean: What happens next?”


    George Saunders:

    “One of the major things I’ve learned over the years is that prose is workable. You can put something down and it’s going to give off a certain energy, and you can adjust it — pretty precisely, if you give yourself enough time. For me, that’s not separable from inspiration. When you have a sudden burst of insight into how to make something better, to me that’s inspiration.”


    Drew Smith:

    “My best hope for Arcade is that someone will read it and relate to it and connect with it, and feel less alone somehow. That’s a good feeling to have when you’re reading a book.”


    That’s it for this week. Tune in, er, someday for the next installment.

    [Tweet “”I want more than anything for my work to cause people to feel something.” — Sasha Fletcher”]


    Your Turn

    Until then, please share with us your thoughts about writer interviews. Love ’em? Hate ’em? Do you prefer email or verbal interviews? Do you have a favorite? (Include a link!)

    Who would be your dream interview subject, and why?

    Let us know in the comments below.


    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2016 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coaching, private instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”

    David Duhr, co-founderWriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and contributes regularly to the Dallas Morning News, Publishing Perspectives, the Observer and other publications.


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    I can always tell when an interview is written,
    and they suffer for it. So, oral for me.

    My dream subject? Virginia Woolf. Or Dorothy
    Parker. Those two together, at one table, would
    make for an interesting dynamic.

    Kenneth Harris

    I enjoy reading interviews with writers. It’s fun to see a person transformed in print from yesterday’s boxer shorts clad head-in-hands wretch crippled with writer’s block to urbane social commentator tsk tsking the fraying fabric of today’s published literary efforts.

    I’d like to have interviewed Oscar Wilde:
    Me: So, Mr. Wilde…
    OW: Oscar, please. Formality between strangers is tedious.

    Deb McCoy

    When there isn’t anyone at home to listen, we must write!


    Writing makes me recognize what I feel.


    I think the compendium is a good idea. Since you’ll compile it from interviews you performed, you could include commentary and anecdotes. Maybe also arrange the material by whatever categories it falls into. It seems to me that author interviews come in two flavors: where the topic is writing, and where it is about what the author has written. You see this in the Writers’ Voice podcast that Francesca Rheannon does. I’ve most enjoyed her interviews with writers who have written on topics that appeal to me. It’s easy to forgive interviewer flubs when the subject matter is interesting.


    I like some author interview shows, like when Fresh
    Air ha writers. Do you know the Dead Authors podcast?
    Not the same, it’s actors and comics, but super funny. I
    don’t usually read interviews though. I guess I’d rather read
    the work itself. My dream interview is Jane Austen. Just to
    see what she was like as a person.


    Favorite episodes: Beatrix Potter; Aleister Crowley; Dickens. I also love the moment where Roald Dahl discovers that he was an anti-Semite.

    Alex Jackson

    I like Lou Gallo’s thing, “litost.” And not just because it begins with “lit” and sounds (in my head) like “lit toast.” How’s your career? I’m toast. I’m lit toast.

    Looking forward to more of these, thanks.

    My ideal interview is probably Vonnegut. How fun would that be?

    […] few weeks ago I wrote about this fantasy of mine where I collect my favorite passages from the Paris Review interviews into a book I’d keep at […]


    The compendium is a great idea. I enjoyed reading the quotes you have here. Do you ever do author interviews for publication on Write by Night? That way, you could publish your own Write by Night compendium in the future.

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x