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Conclusion of Conversation with Ben H. Winters
When did you realize that you wanted to write?
Pretty young. I was writing funny stories in third, fourth grade, including a series about a hapless pig named Piggy Wiggy, who died spectacularly at the end of each page-and-a-half episode. I banged out one or two Piggy Wiggy episodes every week for a year or so. Hopefully my taste has evolved since then, though my dedication has not wavered.
Are you successful enough to write full time?
Well, if I were still the person I was fifteen years ago, a young, single guy with no mortgage, no kids, no interest in clothes that fit me properly, no interest in fancy food or durable household goods of any kind, then I’d be smooth sailing all the way. As it is, I have grown up a tad in my personal habits, and my wife and I have three gorgeous children who like to take swim classes, play with toys, go places, and eat meals. So I write, I teach, I do manuscript consultation, I write some more. I have zero complaints.
Do you plan out the entire book before you begin writing? Or do you just sit down and write?
I plan out the entire book, and then as I write I make discoveries that make a hash of the outline, so I rewrite the outline—expand it, tweak it, turn it up down—until it reflects all those discoveries. Then it’s back to writing, and making new discoveries that bang the outline all out of shape again. Repeat, repeat, repeat. It’s a good thing people don’t build cars like they write books. We’d all spend a lot more time at home.
Do you have a set time that you write each day? Or do you wait to be inspired?
I hope you’ve heard the quote, from the old New Yorker writer Peter DeVries: “I only write when I’m inspired, and I make sure I’m inspired every morning at 9am.” A lot of people have a false and ultimate corrosive view of writing as being some sort of mystical activity, beyond your control or direction. This is not so. There is an intuitive aspect to all creativity, but your job as an author (as I assume for a painter or composer) is to create the material conditions for that intuition to work its magic. That means, get up, get out of bed, get some coffee and get the hell to it.
Do you ever become bored with what you are writing? If you do, how do you get past that point?
I don’t get bored, per se, but I get frustrated. I get annoyed when my ability falls short of my taste; when I know what I want it to be, but can’t get it to that place. When I can get the feel, but can’t work out the plot, or vice versa. I get past that point by not stopping.
What kind of books do you like to read?
So many different kinds that it’s tempting to just say “all kinds.” But I love to read biographies (most-recent favorite: Master of the Senate, by Robert Caro), I love to read mysteries (Clockers, Richard Price) and I love to read “the classics” (Middlemarch, George Eliot).
How do you manage to balance your time between family, friends, and writing?
I don’t, to be totally honest with you: I’ve more or less given up on maintaining active personal friendships. I’ve got time to write, and to maintain a writing career, and those are two full-time jobs right there, by the way. I’ve got time to play with my kids and hang out, too rarely, with my wife. A regular poker night is basically out of the picture at this particular juncture.
Do you have any advice for writers who are striving to be published?
Yes, I do, and I mean this in all seriousness, though it sounds glib. Turn off the wireless connection on your computer. Writing is hard, and it gets harder when it’s getting good—when you’re getting down to the thorny thicket at the center of the story, or when you’re creating a human being who has never been described before. It is all too tempting to go do something other than that hard thing in front of you—the great challenge is to keep going, and the internet has made that challenge much, much more more significant. Rise to the challenge. Retrain your mind to stay in one place for hours at a time, and you will be well on your way.
Content copyright © 2013 by Lisa Binion. All rights reserved.
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