Andrew Sean Greer: On Writers Block

Andrew Sean Greer: It’s hard to tell if I’ve had writer’s block because it seems to me that it’s when nothing comes, but, you know, every day you stare at that computer screen and I think it’s never going to happen today.  How can I write three pages?  And the hours pass and they haven’t shown up and then at the very end it always happens, so it’s willpower.  You just keep going and make pages and then out of the pages you produce you can pick something because I overwrite incredibly.  I write hundreds for, this book is 198 pages, but my cuts file is 400, so a lot of that is me not stopping.  You know what I mean?  So that’s, I think, how I must have gotten through it.

Question: Which of your characters is your favorite?

Andrew Sean Greer:  Definitely I think it’s Max Tivoli because he loved to write the devil, you know, as someone said about Milton.  You know, he’s a pretty unlikable character, but because he would talk in these Victorian flourishes and could be incredibly overdone and garish, but get away with it somehow because of the time setting, I just enjoyed that freedom.  You don’t get to write like that ever.  No writing program would let you get away with that, so it was great and you could be so cruel.  I cut out most of the cruel stuff, but I loved writing it.

Question: What inspires you?

Andrew Sean Greer:  What inspires me?  Well, definitely for writing what inspires me is poetry, which I have next to me all the time because I think they’re doing what I’m doing, but much harder, more condensed.  It’s the same job, but they’re more talented.  All of them.  So I just steal openly from them.  I love it.  And also, definitely bewildering situations.  Not just people, but traveling a lot, I think that helps a lot in the job because a lot of the job is sitting in a room alone and you can’t do that and still write about people.

Question: Why do writers drink so much?

Andrew Sean Greer:  Because it helps the writing.  It does.  You know, I’m lucky that I am not an addict, but when the end of the book comes and you want it to work and you want the emotion there, there’s nothing like sitting there with a bottle of whiskey, and I’m not that kind of guy at all, but it works.  And I think because it’s a tough thing, there’s tougher things in life than being a novelist but you have such a struggle with yourself that it’s hard to explain.  It seems like it should just write itself easily, but the doubt is so intense that a drink now and then can cure it and if you went the wrong way, it’s also a crutch too.  Writers rely on things that work.  The magic pen and paper in view and if a whiskey works once, you could not want to miss that.

Question: Do you ever recycle characters?

Andrew Sean Greer:  I’m trying to think.  I have
done it a little bit.  Well, in Story of a Marriage there are a couple.  You would have to be a true crazy dorky fan of Max Tivoli to see everything that I carried over, but it’s there.  It was for my own fun that there are some of the minor characters from there.  You know, and I considered trying to write Max Tivoli again in some kind of sequel, but it’s hard to imagine how I could do it, but maybe some day or maybe one of the other characters.

Insights on his characters, inspirations, advice, and why writers drink.

James Patterson on writing: Plotting, research, and first drafts

The best-selling author tells us his methods.

Videos
  • James Patterson has sold 300 million copies of his 130 books, making him one of the most successful authors alive today.
  • He talks about how some writers can overdo it by adding too much research, or worse, straying from their outline for too long.
  • James' latest book, The President is Missing, co-written with former President Bill Clinton, is out now.
Keep reading Show less

How to vaccinate the world’s most vulnerable? Build global partnerships.

Pfizer's partnerships strengthen their ability to deliver vaccines in developing countries.

Susan Silbermann, Global President of Pfizer Vaccines, looks on as a health care worker administers a vaccine in Rwanda. Photo: Courtesy of Pfizer.
Sponsored
  • Community healthcare workers face many challenges in their work, including often traveling far distances to see their clients
  • Pfizer is helping to drive the UN's sustainable development goals through partnerships.
  • Pfizer partnered with AMP and the World Health Organization to develop a training program for healthcare workers.
Keep reading Show less

Why the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner won’t feature a comedian in 2019

It's the first time the association hasn't hired a comedian in 16 years.

(Photo by Anna Webber/Getty Images for Vulture Festival)
Culture & Religion
  • The 2018 WHCA ended in controversy after comedian Michelle Wolf made jokes some considered to be offensive.
  • The WHCA apologized for Wolf's jokes, though some journalists and many comedians backed the comedian and decried arguments in favor of limiting the types of speech permitted at the event.
  • Ron Chernow, who penned a bestselling biography of Alexander Hamilton, will speak at next year's dinner.
Keep reading Show less