I started reading the Paris Review author interviews about 10-15 years ago when I was living in New York and trying to figure out what I wanted. At the time, my writing consisted of hand-scrawled daily journal entries that primarily detailed my erratic love life. Thrown in was the occasional page or two of earnest, experimental story (example: man awakes with a small face on his thumb), which usually ended with an internal pep talk along the lines of writing is life, learn to live! In other words: I very much liked the idea of writing fiction but couldn’t quite figure out the execution. In order to help with the latter, I started to read the Paris Review. And when I say read, I mean really read, in the way an aspiring chef reads a recipe. Or a med student reads her anatomy book. You get the idea. I was looking for 1-2-3 steps: this is how you write a sentence, this is how you conceive a book, this is how you finish it and find perfect peace with yourself and the world. Of particular interest to me were always the physical details: longhand or typed? On a desk, a chair, a bed? Blue ink, red, green? For months, I tried hand-writing stories in blue ink on long yellow legal pads because an unnamed Very Famous Author did so. I also (very) occasionally experienced a miraculous flash of recognition: holy cow, I do that too! (example: typing out exquisite sentences written by other people just to see how it would feel to write a thing so beautiful). And those moments of familiarity made me feel not quite so hopeless and weird because someone else, this writer whom I admired, had done it too.
This is all a very long introduction to say that I’ve recently returned to the Paris Review interviews, because they’re just so goddamn cool and interesting and I always find nuggets of wisdom within them. It’s not so much the color of a writer’s ink that interests me now; now it’s the journey, the sources of inspiration, the little words writers whisper to themselves in the dead of night, and I’ve decided to start sharing them here with something resembling a regular schedule (though don’t get mad if I miss a Wednesday: I will do my very best). And I should clarify: these won’t all be culled from the Paris Review. With all the Facebook links and Twitter shout-outs and Instagram noodles, it’s easy to find wisdom (and “wisdom”) from a variety of sources.
So here’s my first, from the great Flannery O’Connor:
“The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. Her problem is to find that location.”