An essay on motivation.
writers on writing
An interview with Joan Didion.
“I come to America, I go to England, I go to France…nobody’s at risk. They’re afraid of getting cancer, losing a lover, losing their jobs, being insecure. … It’s only in my own country that I find people who voluntarily choose to put everything at risk—in their personal life.”
“But to grow up costs the earth, the earth. It means you take responsibility for the time you take up, for the space you occupy. It’s serious business. And you find out what it costs us to love and to lose, to dare and to fail. And maybe even more, to succeed. What it costs, in truth. Not superficial costs—anybody can have that—I mean in truth. That’s what I write. What it really is like. I’m just telling a very simple story.”
“A story is a kind of biopsy of human life.”
An interview with Philip Roth on his career, his critics, and his retirement, which he began by re-reading his 31 books to "see whether I’d wasted my time."
More from the Longform archive: writers on writing.
INTERVIEWER: I imagine that people try to set you up as some sort of guru, whether political or metaphysical.
LESSING: I think people are always looking for gurus. It’s the easiest thing in the world to become a guru. It’s quite terrifying.
The author on Lolita, his work habits, and what he expected from his literary afterlife.
An interview with novelist Marilynne Robinson, conducted by a graduating student.
“I never attacked anyone weak. Only bullies, secure in their courts, bureacracies, fifedoms.”
A 12-hour interview on career and craft.
“Modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug.”
“For people who pay close attention to the state of American fiction, he has become a kind of superhero.”
An interview with Maurice Sendak.
I can’t ask anything. Once in a while if I’m forced into it I will conduct an interview, but it’s usually pro forma, just to establish my credentials as somebody who’s allowed to hang around for a while. It doesn’t matter to me what people say to me in the interview because I don’t trust it.
An interview with the novelist.
This interview with Kurt Vonnegut was originally a composite of four interviews done with the author over the past decade. The composite has gone through an extensive working over by the subject himself, who looks upon his own spoken words on the page with considerable misgivings . . . indeed, what follows can be considered an interview conducted with himself, by himself.
An interview on craft:
Writing The Subs in three nights was really a fantastic athletic feat as well as mental, you shoulda seen me after I was done...I was pale as a sheet and had lost fifteen pounds and looked strange in the mirror.
An interview with McPhee on his writing process, how he got his start at The New Yorker, and why he never understood how New Journalism could be called a revolution. “Anytime I was called a New Journalist I winced a little with embarrassment.”
On writing what you loathe. Leslie McFarlane, ghostwriter of the early Hardy Boys novels, was so ashamed of the work he couldn’t even bring himself to name the books in his diary. “June 9, 1933: Tried to get at the juvenile again today but the ghastly job appalls me.”
The original new journalist on his start at the Times, his daily writing routine, and why he’s always taken notes on shirt boards.