How do you write?

Jim Lehrer: Well it all goes back to when I was a kid. When I made the decision when I was a sophomore in high school, the decision was to be a writer. And I have been writing fiction since I was a teenager.

You know, short stories and stuff like that. None of them . . . none of them were very good. None of them deserved to ever be published. But what it . . . what happened to me was . . . And I’m so fortunate. The worst thing you can do is be around somebody who’s fortunate and doesn’t know it or won’t admit it. You are not . . . That’s not the case here, okay? I’m fortunate and I know it. But I . . . I . . . I decided that I wanted to do both, and I decided that early. In other words I wanted to be a journalist and I wanted to be a reporter.

But I also wanted to go into my imagination. I wanted to write stories – made up stories. And I got very much into Hemingway. I was a Hemingway-generation person.

Hemingway said, “You wanna be a writer? Get a job on a newspaper. It will force you to deal with the English language every day in some semi-coherent way. Keep food on the table. And if you really pay attention, you’ll meet all kinds of people that can later be characters in your novels or whatever fiction you’re writing. And most importantly you will be confronted with all kinds of human dilemmas in journalism that you can later use automatically when you come to write fiction."

And that’s certainly what’s happened to me.

I’ve had these parallel things.

I write a little bit on my fiction every day. It’s just what I do. Yes I have my day job. I do that too; but I do both things every day. And I have for years.

I don’t get up in the morning and say, “Am I gonna write today?” The only thing I think about is what I am going to write, not if I’m going to write.

I think probably what’s happened to me – and it’s glorious, and I’m so lucky to be able to do this – is that by writing fiction, I am free to let my imagination go.

As a consequence, because I have the fiction, nobody should ever have to watch the NewsHour and say, “Who is Jim Lehrer? And what’s he really like? And what is his. . .”--you know?

I don’t want people thinking about that. I want them to pay attention to what I’m saying. And not who I am or what my views are. “Is he really sad,” or “Is he really happy,” or any of that sort of stuff.

And to keep my personality – my “persona” is probably a better way of putting it – away from what my purpose is, which is to present the news. And I think I’m freer to do that because I have my fiction.

It's an unlikely event that somebody’s interested and looking into the deep recesses of my mind and soul about some of my fundamental beliefs about human nature or whatever, read my fiction. Don’t watch the NewsHour. And I’m lucky to have those two things.

 

Recorded: July 4, 2007.

 

Jim Lehrer, on why and how he writes.

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