Do you have a creative process?

Calvin Trillin: Well I have a way of writing. I think everybody has a way of . . . I mean particularly people who work either completely as freelance writers, or in a place like The New Yorker where you’re essentially in the same situation in that you get paid by the piece rather than on salary. And nobody’s asking you for the piece, usually. So you have to figure out on your own how to do it and how to get it done. Or writing books is the same way. You have to figure out how to get it done. Most people invent some structure that allows them to do that, because God didn’t intend people to make livings as writers. I mean that was not in the grand plan. So you have to invent some sort of procedure that will allow you to do it, and it can be really dumb. I spent 15 years doing a piece every three weeks for The New Yorker from some part of the country, and – a 3,000 word piece. And I had the same schedule every time I came home. I mean I knew what I do the first day. I knew what I do the second day. And otherwise I wasn’t sure I was gonna get it done. So . . . And I used to have for longer pieces something called “The Committee for National Goals.” That was a phrase from the Eisenhower administration. And I imagined them as these old guys with beards sitting up high on a kind of a dais who . . . And I would give ‘em excuses. You know, “I don’t feel very well today.” And they’d say . . . they’d tell me how many pages had to be written no matter what. And you know, but people work in a completely different way. I think partly according to their background; partly . . . I mean I guess my first more or less “grown up” job was as a reporter in the south for Time during the Civil Rights Movement. And so you know I was used to writing with a typewriter on the back of the trunk of a car or something. I didn’t need to go into the woods in a shack to write. But some people do. It just depends on how they started, I think, a lot. And also when I was in about eighth grade, the Kansas City school system . . . Kansas City is always a little ahead of its time. Other cities in later years closed the schools when they ran out of money, but Kansas City did this years ago. And they closed the schools in April because they had run out of money and some tax bill wasn’t passed. And my father made us go to typing school and made me type for the rest of the summer. He thought typing was an important skill. And so I . . . I’ve always worked on a typewriter. I mean rather than, you know . . . You read about people who work in longhand, or I can write a letter in longhand. And so . . . And I type very quickly because I’ve been typing since I was a little boy. So I tend to put before computers . . . tended to put things through the typewriter a lot and just keep typing. And it took me a long time to sort of compose on the computer which I do now. I think most writers at some point realize they sound the way they’re supposed to sound – or at least they’re going to sound, maybe not supposed to. And that’s how they sound. I think once you’ve sort of settled into the way you’re gonna sound – what the writing teachers call your “voice” – there you are. I have no idea how to find it, but I think most people know when they’ve found it.

 

Recorded on: 9/5/07

 

 

At some point most writers realize they sound the way they're supposed to sound, Trillin says.

Related Articles

How does alcohol affect your brain?

Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.

(Photo by Angie Garrett/Wikimedia Commons)
Mind & Brain
  • Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
  • Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
  • Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists sequence the genome of this threatened species

If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.

Surprising Science
  • A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
  • It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
  • Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.

If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.

Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.

elephant by Guillaume le Clerc

Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons

13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.

It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.

But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.

John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."

What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.

Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.

Why cauliflower is perfect for the keto diet

The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.

Purple cauliflower. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Surprising Science
  • The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
  • The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
  • It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
Keep reading Show less