Author Photo: Eleanor Henderson ©Nina Subin
Ten Breaths of Inspiration for the Writing Life
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST CORINNA BARSAN
Eleanor Henderson was born in Greece, grew up in Florida, and attended Middlebury College and the University of Virginia, where she received her MFA in 2005.
Her fiction has appeared in Agni, North American Review, Ninth Letter, and Columbia, among other publications. Her story “The Farms” was nominated for a /Pushcart and selected by Alice Sebold for The Best American Short Stories 2009. Her nonfiction has appeared in Poets & Writers, where she was a contributing editor, and The Virginia Quarterly Review, where she was the chair of the fiction board.
An assistant professor at Ithaca College, she lives in Ithaca, New York, with her husband and son. Ten Thousand Saints (Ecco, June 2011) is her first novel.
Author website: www.eleanorhenderson.wordpress.com
The Magazine of Yoga On The Lit Mat Interview
Who or what was your greatest influence in picking up the pen?
Before I could actually write, I would dictate stories to my mother, who would copy them down on newsprint and staple them into books I would illustrate. So I was encouraged by my mother and also influenced by stories of all kinds—from fairytales to Nickelodeon.
I was fascinated by the concept of a story being “retold” by another author, so I took this phenomenon as permission to plagiarize every story I came across. I think I’ve developed a pretty healthy imagination since those days, but I’m still something of a copycat.
In what ways do you make room for the creative process in your
I’m one of those not very smart writers who’s also a parent and a teacher, so often I don’t make room for the creative process in my day-to-day.
When I was in grad school, I used to make a pot of coffee at midnight and stay up writing until dawn, but now that I don’t have that luxury, I do most of my writing in the summer and winter, at writers’ colonies when I can. During the school year, I have to find clever ways of inserting writing into my life. When I’m rocking my son to sleep, I think about my characters. When my students are working on a writing exercise, I take out my notebook, too.
Which one word, image, sound, feeling, or memory defines the act of writing for you?
At the risk of sounding Franzenesque: freedom.
Where do you find inspiration when the well runs dry?
I read author interviews! But really, my well doesn’t often run dry. I’m always so desperate to be writing that my well usually runneth over, and I runneth around it trying to catch the flood with Dixie cups which I put aside until I have time to tend to them.
Is there a tidbit of writing advice that has stayed with you over the years?
I’ve always been wary of the advice that a writer must write every day, probably because I wish I could. But I once read an interview with Walter Mosley in which he said the reason you must write every day is so that you don’t lose the story.
That makes sense to me. If you spend weeks away from a writing project, you have to relearn the world every time you return to it, finding your way back to the characters. So this is why I find it important to keep a story alive in my mind in some way, even if I’m not actually writing every day.
What is something you know now about writing that you didn’t know when you were just starting out?
Writing should be hard. Thomas Mann said,
A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.
At one point, writing came fairly easily to me. Now I know that, if I’m not sweating, I’m not writing well.
Whether you do yoga or another form of physical or spiritual practice, how does it affect your work?
Exercise, like writing, is something I wish I had more time for. As both have become more precious to me, they have become somewhat fused. When I have the luxury of doing yoga or taking a walk, I find that my mind becomes free to find stories, to nurture them and to hold onto them.
What is your most favorite guilty pleasure?
A soy latte with any kind of cupcake. I’m vegan, so when I come across a dessert I can eat, I do.
If you had to pick one book to recommend as a must-read,
which would it be?
The novel The Walking People by Mary Beth Keane, about Irish tinkers and a family’s immigration to New York in the 1950s. I had the privilege of reading it in manuscript as the author was working on it, but it’s one of those books that is so richly detailed that, even though I’m well aware that the characters are inventions, I still believe they exist.
What is on your nightstand now?
Notes from No Man’s Land by Eula Biss. I’m stunned and energized by the common ground between her essays and the new novel I’m trying to write, about a pair of twins growing up in Depression-era Georgia, one born to a white father, one born to a black father. Those little echoes help to keep the well fresh, too—seeing in others’ work the work I wish I were doing.
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.