Andrew Sean Greer is an American novelist and short-story writer. The New York Times called his 2008 novel The Story of a Marriage “lyrical” and “inspired.” His first novel, 2001’s The Path of Minor Planets, was well received, and his second, 2004’s The Confessions of Max Tivoli, earned him comparisons to Proust and Nabokov from critic John Updike. His stories have appeared in Esquire, The Paris Review, The New Yorker, and other national publications. Born in Washington, D.C., Greer received his bachelor’s degree from Brown University and his master’s degree from the University of Montana. He currently resides in San Francisco. Greer was so well received as an undergrad that his classmates elected him the commencement speaker, for his own graduation.
Question: Is it easier to write in New York or San Francisco?
Andrew Sean Greer: That’s hard. I was so young when I was in New York. I certainly wrote a lot. But last time I was here I found it really distracting. It was hard to stay indoors because I wanted to be out all the time. I think the most important thing is to just get a ritual down wherever you are.
Question: What is your writing process?
Andrew Sean Greer: The process. Well, there’s two parts to it. There’s the long-term process of a novel and then there’s the daily stuff. You know, it’s like planning for a marathon. You set up your training schedule, you know, you have your idea and I plot it out, I make a huge outline of it and then I work every day about 9:00 to 2:00 or 3:00. I have to get three pages done every day and there’s usually a point about 150 pages in where everything falls apart, where all the plans are for naught. The book has become something else and I have a nervous breakdown and then I submit to what the book has become and I keep going and that’s a terrible and then a great time. No one likes to be around me during that.
Question: What is your advice to young writers?
Andrew Sean Greer: It’s so hard to know what to tell people. I mean, I really think it’s just what everyone says, it’s a willpower kind of a game because the weirdest part in graduate school was that the most talented writers were not the ones that became writers, it was dogged ones and that’s actually talent too, I guess. Is just being willing to go every day and stay there until the pages appear every day. I tell this to my students too. I’m, like, I know you can write a short story overnight, but that’s not the job. It’s not a long-term skill. You need to write a short story over a month, every month, and I think that’s it.
Question: Was graduate school the right decision?
Andrew Sean Greer: It was. I don’t think it’s the right decision for everyone. You know, I was coming from New York, I couldn’t afford anything. I was having a hard time figuring how to be a writer here and going to Montana was a very attractive, completely different plan and it worked out great for me, but I’m not sure it helped my writing, you know. Because you have a committee of people who are also young like you and don’t really know how to do it well either, so it’s a funny committee to be submitting your work to. You have to really know, be confident in what you’re doing because I wasn’t writing like anyone else there and that was hard for me to figure out and it’s destructive to a novel for sure because you meet every week with part of a novel. Really what
you should tell a novelist is keep going until you finish the draft. Don’t show it to anyone.
Question: Do trees enable writing?
Andrew Sean Greer: Oh, in Montana? Yeah, it was great, but then also, it was pretty cold, dark winters. I guess that helps novel writing too historically, but it also helps drinking, you know, at those times, but maybe that helps a novel too. But I love it. I go every year and stay for a long time. I love going to writers’ colonies in pastoral settings where there’s nothing to do, but either walk around or read a book or work on your book and they all seem helpful.
Question: What’s your favorite writers colony?
Andrew Sean Greer: In New Hampshire, the McDowell colony. I’m going there in a month. Yeah, can’t wait. Because you work all day and produce so much work and it doesn’t feel like work. It just feels like when you start out writing and you just want to write all the time and you’re just so excited about everything you’re doing. It feels like that again and it’s hard to recreate because a lot of times it feels like a job like you’re building something really huge.