Sarah Manguso, Lady Bird, the Smell of Wood


The writer rob mclennan interviewed me a couple of months ago, and the interview posted this week on his blog. It's always a privilege to be interviewed, and Rob's questions made me think a lot about the role of a writer in the world. This coincided with a conversation that my writer friends and I had recently in which we talked about what kind of effect we wanted to make as writers. Some of the group wanted to make people laugh and be entertained, some wanted to teach or help people think in a new way, and others wanted readers to know they were not alone.

I don’t think I ever write with a purpose in mind. I write whatever story calls out to me in that moment. I suppose I trust that its purpose—whether small or big—will figure itself out. What do you think? Should all writing have an intended purpose? Feel free to leave a comment below.

Here is the interview. Thanks, rob mclennan, for this opportunity.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

My first book made me an author, and that was very important to me—for many years, my goal was to have a book. I never would have guessed my first book would be a memoir. 

My most recent work hasn’t been memoir: I’ve been focused on fiction and poetry, though at times the genres mix with each other.

2 - How did you come to non-fiction first, as opposed to, say, fiction or poetry?

I actually came to fiction first—bad fiction: I started writing short stories in sixth grade, quite terrible little short stories that I thought for many years were quite good. In high school I started writing poetry and have been writing it ever since. I came to memoir in the last decade when I realized I had stories from my life I wanted to tell.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

This all depends on the project. Some are easy and flow, and I do very little editing. Other pieces I labor over and revise so many times I lose track. Some poems take me less than an hour to write. Some stories I write for years.

Here is a link to the rest of the interview on his website.