Andrew Sean Greer: On Writers Block
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.
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.
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