Author Photo: Katharine Weber © Corbin Gurkin
Ten Breaths of Inspiration for the Writing Life
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST CORINNA BARSAN
Katharine Weber is the author of the novels True Confections, Triangle, The Little Women, The Music Lesson, and Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear. (All are available in paperback and for e-readers.) Her sixth book has just been published — a memoir called The Memory of All That: George Gershwin, Kay Swift, and My Family’s Legacy of Infidelities.
She is a thesis advisor in the Columbia University School of the Arts MFA program, lives in Connecticut, and spends parts of the year in France and Ireland. She is married to the cultural historian Nicholas Fox Weber.
Author website: www.katharineweber.com
The Magazine of Yoga On The Lit Mat Interview
Who or what was your greatest influence in picking up the pen?
I don’t think I have one single greatest influence. I feel in some ways inspired by my grandmother, who wrote music, and set an example for me of independence and creativity. She made me feel that we were the people who could of course invent songs or stories, why not? She was a terrific model for the creative life.
But reading Edwin Mullhouse by Stephen Milhauser was a hugely significant event for me, when I was sixteen. It was a novel that gave me permission to write a novel myself.
In what ways do you make room for the creative process in your day-to-day?
I think the harder task is filtering out the creative process in my day-to-day life so as to get household tasks done, pay bills, and tend to the practical dailiness of life.
As a novelist I feel entitled to deem everything potentially intriguing, including, for example, a long wait at the Department of Motor Vehicles for a license renewal, during which I can observe and speculate about all the other intense Scorpios gathered together for license renewal (a dangerous choice on the part of the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles, when you think about it, gathering a nest of Scorpios in an irritating environment).
But sometimes it is hard to be efficient at the practicalities of life. Is it the millionth time someone has quoted Henry James’s advice to the young artist about being someone on whom nothing is lost? Because that is really the best way to honor one’s creative process.
Which one word, image, sound, feeling, or memory defines the act of writing for you?
Where do you find inspiration when the well runs dry?
I cannot imagine the well running dry. I can imagine drowning in a geyser, I can imagine floating away in a torrent, but there are no dry wells in my mind’s eye! The challenge is filtering out everything but the one essential thing of the moment.
Is there a tidbit of writing advice that has stayed with you over the years?
Elizabeth McCracken once said this when she was visiting a seminar I was teaching at Yale, and I thought it most wise: “Writing what you know” is not as effective as knowing what you write. Know what you write.
What is something you know now about writing that you didn’t know when you were just starting out?
I think I imagined that I would figure out how to write a novel and then I would know how to write novels. What I have discovered is that each time I write a novel I have to learn (which is to say I have to teach myself) how to write that novel.
Whether you do yoga or another form of physical or spiritual practice, how does it affect
I have discovered that I do my best creative work when I have had a lot of sleep. Somehow this only dawned on me in recent years. Why was I writing so much more effectively in our cottage in Ireland than anywhere else? No television, few disturbances or obligations, nothing around me but the deeply peaceful countryside and the sound of the ocean coming across the fields = incredibly deep and restful sleep. It really makes a difference.
I love to daydream in a very intentional and productive way when I am working on a novel. This is best achieved with forward motion, such as sitting on a train, or with a repetitive physical task that doesn’t require intense concentration, such as raking leaves or (in Ireland) tipping hay bales. I find it incredibly fruitful, and I will sometimes set myself a specific task or puzzle to work out. I love having a goal connected to a work in progress under these circumstances.
What is your most favorite guilty pleasure?
Television. I really admire the writing—at least that’s my excuse for spending hours watching, and I am sticking to it — in The Good Wife, Parenthood, and the sadly cancelled Men of a Certain Age. I laugh out loud at the delightful contrivances in The Closer.
If you had to pick one book to recommend as a must-read, which would it be?
Puddnhead Wilson by Mark Twain. What an audacious, prematurely postmodern novel that is, published in 1894.
What is on your nightstand now?
Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor by Brad Gooch, Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction by Patricia Highsmith, The Original of Laura by Vladimir Nabokov, Capuchin Monkey Aides by Judith Janda Presnall.
Plus a blue alarm clock, my comfortable green reading glasses, and a little glass jar of Elizabeth Arden’s 8 Hour Cream.
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.