Photo: Claire Dederer ©Bruce Barcott Art Direction: The Magazine of Yoga
Ten Breaths of Inspiration for the Writing Life
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST CORINNA BARSAN
Claire Dederer’s memoir, Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses, was published in January by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, Vogue, New York magazine, The Nation, Real Simple, Slate, Salon, and many other publications.
Author website www.clairedederer.com
Book Review Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses
The Magazine of Yoga On The Lit Mat Interview
Who or what was your greatest influence in picking up the pen?
I feel more like the pen picked me up.
I’ve been writing since I was a little kid. On the playground in elementary school, I always had my Mead notebook with me, filled with half-finished stories of brave pioneer girls and plucky orphans.
In what ways do you make room for the creative process in your
Writing is my job, so I do it every weekday as soon as the kids head off to school. I’ve been a journalist for so long that sometimes it’s for me to remember that writing is, in fact, a creative process.
Every once in a while it’s really important for me to go somewhere, anywhere, and hole up by myself for a few days. These little retreats free me up to be more loose and less linear as a writer.
Which one word, image, sound, feeling, or memory defines the act of writing for you?
It’s actually an image from a film—Jane Campion’s An Angel at My Table, which tells the real-life story of the great New Zealand novelist and memoirist Janet Frame.
A quirky child, Frame was misdiagnosed as a schizophrenic and locked up in a mental institution during the early years of her life. The film follows her through this harrowing time. Finally she gets sprung from the bin and takes up writing.
The image that gets me is this: a long shot of Frame, in profile, sitting on her bed, typewriter on her lap, typing away. Slowly she turns her head toward us and looks directly into the camera, a radiant smile on her face.
It’s an amazing, absurd moment that captures the quiet freedom and weird joy of writing.
How do you find inspiration when the well runs dry?
People with children write when and where they can.
To be honest, I don’t think inspiration really comes into it.
If I’m truly stuck, I listen to really, really loud music while I write—for instance, vintage Dinosaur Jr or X. My thoughts have to make themselves heard over the din. It’s a survival-of-the-fittest type situation.
Is there a tidbit of writing advice that has stayed with you over the years?
Well, it’s not very romantic or glamorous, but here it is.
In the first writing class I ever took, the professor told us students to feel free to imitate any writers we admired. Not their actual words, of course, but their style. He said, “You’re all such terrible writers no one will ever guess who you’re trying to rip off anyhow.” His crankiness made me laugh at the time and still makes me laugh now.
But he was right: I think all students should be encouraged to study closely the writers they admire, to really try to understand the structures of the sentences and narratives. It doesn’t have to be some towering figure like Proust or Tolstoy.
When I started writing Poser, I really wanted to understand how the comic memoir worked. So I pored over books by writers like Shirley Jackson, Nick Hornby, and Calvin Trillin, trying to figure out just how they pulled humor from a simple, personal story.
What is something you know now about writing that you didn’t know when you were just starting out?
There’s an old quote from Woody Allen: “Is sex dirty? Only if you’re doing it right.” Here’s what I’ve learned about writing: “Does writing make you crazy? Only if you’re doing it right.”
Whether you do yoga or another form of physical or spiritual practice, how does it affect your work?
All I know is that I feel like crap when I skip yoga.
What is your most favorite guilty pleasure?
I return over and over to the books I love. I’ve read all of Laurie Colwin’s books countless times. Other favorite re-reads are Alice Adams, Mark Helprin, A.S. Byatt, E.F. Benson, Mary McCarthy, Nancy Mitford, Calvin Trillin, Rebecca West, Geoff Dyer, and Armistead Maupin.
If you had to pick one book to recommend as a must-read,
which would it be?
Not a book, just a single story: Cathedral by Raymond Carver.
What is on your nightstand now?
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman, Ms. Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, West of Here by Jonathan Evison, Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith, Life by Keith Richards. .
The pause that refreshes! You can find Corinna Barsan’s musings and discoveries on her blog at Shiny White Page.
We may publish any content, comments or ideas sent to us.
Name may be withheld by request.
© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.