Monday, December 10, 2012

Barbara Kingsolver: How I Write

The Poisonwood Bible author, whose new novel is Flight Behavior, wakes up to sentences pouring into her head—she never has a problem forcing herself to write.

Do you know the origins of your evocative surname?
I do. At least, I know the stories, there are several. It is probably a corruption of Gonsalvez, a common Portuguese surname. When it got to Virginia it turned into Consolver, then it quickly became corrupted into Kinsolving, Kingsolver, and other variations. We’re all pretty closely related. When you go back six or seven generations, people of my ancestors’ station in life hardly ever wrote their names, so it didn’t much matter how it was spelled.
Barbara Kingsolver
Author Barbara Kingsolver. (David Wood)
Describe your morning routine.
I tend to wake up very early. Too early. Four o’clock is standard. My morning begins with trying not to get up before the sun rises. But when I do, it’s because my head is too full of words, and I just need to get to my desk and start dumping them into a file. I always wake with sentences pouring into my head. So getting to my desk every day feels like a long emergency. It’s a funny thing: people often ask how I discipline myself to write. I can’t begin to understand the question. For me, the discipline is turning off the computer and leaving my desk to do something else.

When would you normally finish your day, then? What would your evening be like?
For the whole of my career as a novelist, I have also been a mother. I was offered my first book contract, for The Bean Trees, the day I came home from the hospital with my first child. So I became a novelist and mother on the same day. Those two important lives have always been one for me. I’ve always had to do both at the same time. So my writing hours were always constrained by the logistics of having my children in someone else’s care. When they were little, that was difficult. I cherished every hour at my desk as a kind of prize. As time has gone by and my children entered school it became progressively easier to be a working mother. My oldest is an adult, and my youngest is 16, so both are now self-sufficient—but that’s been a gradual process. For me, writing time has always been precious, something I wait for and am eager for and make the best use of. That’s probably why I get up so early and have writing time in the quiet dawn hours, when no one needs me.

Following up on that, do you have any unusual traditions associated with the writing process? Any magic hat you have to wear?
No. As you can probably guess from this conversation, I’ve always been so eager to write that I don’t need any rituals to get myself in the right mood. I used to say that the school bus is my muse. When it pulled out of the driveway and left me without anyone to take care of, that was the moment my writing day began, and it ended when the school bus came back. As a working mother, my working time was constrained. On the other hand, I’m immensely grateful to my family for normalizing my life, for making it a requirement that I end my day at some point and go and make dinner. That’s a healthy thing, to set work aside and make dinner and eat it. It’s healthy to have these people in my life who help me to carry on a civilized routine. And also to have these people in my life who connect me to the wider world and the future. My children have taught me everything about life and about the kind of person I want to be in the world. They anchor me to the future in a concrete way. Being a mother has made me a better writer. It’s also true to say that being a writer has made me a better mother.

Full interview here.

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