Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Inspiration is for amateurs

Last week I went to see Man Booker International Prize-nominated author and creative writing professor Josip Novakovich and two-time Booker Prize-winning author Peter Carey in conversation on stage.

I like Peter Carey, and I'm so relieved that the real-life Peter Carey does not taint my impression of his books, but confirms and enhances my suspicion of the sort of person he is. Wry and unassuming. Observant, clever. Genuine.

On the other hand, I've never read Josip Novakovich. Being a "local" boy (he's called Montreal home for some time), he has flirted with one of my friends. He completely won me over; a little obsessed with death, but in a good way, smart and funny.

The audio file linked to here is a little over an hour, but well worth it. The conversation is moderated; they cover topics including the writing process, inspiration, motivation, editors, how you view "home" when you no longer live there, outsiderness.

Josip described in great detail a story he's working on, about a dying man who plans in great detail his own death, funeral, etc. but he — Josip — played it down as something he hasn't fully worked out yet. And Peter cried out, why bother? he's already plotted it out to the point that he — Peter — would lose interest with the project. (Peter himself may plot the skeleton of a journey, but the writing remains a journey of discovery.) And all of this has seeped heavily into my current reading (Krzhizhanovsky's Letter Killers Club) and studying (a MOOC on cognitive poetics) and stained it beyond repair.

Novakovich also said the best advice he ever received from an editor was to cut the first nine pages (and bear in mind that he writes short stories). As an editor, I love hearing anecdotes like this, about finding the real story in a glut of words, finding where the story really starts.

The big takeaway for me was in the discussion of "inspiration is for amateurs," driving home the point that writing is not a romantic notion; it's something they work hard at.

Learn more about the Thinking Out Loud conversation series on the creative process, sponsored by Concordia University and The Globe and Mail.

Peter Carey's latest novel, Amnesia, about a hacker, is due out in November. Why, yes, I do have a birthday around then.

No comments: