This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Pamela Erens, whose second novel, The Virgins, was published in August 2013, stopped by recently to answer a few questions we put to her. Pamela's debut novel, The Understory, will be reissued by Tin House Books in April.
My books begin in some psychological situation that interests me. What would it be like to live a life in which you avoided any dependence on others, or any dependence of others on you? (That was my first novel, The Understory.) What does sexuality mean, emotionally and existentially, to teenagers? (The Virgins).
Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
When my children were younger, I used to write in the mornings when either they were at school or I had a babysitter. I still do best if I write first thing, or right after a morning walk, but now that my kids are older and I have more leisure time, I am less disciplined about getting that early start. My writing goal is three hours a day, but sometimes I only get in one. I’m talking about fiction – I don’t count hours that go to other kinds of writing!
When you are writing, do you use any famous people or people you know as inspiration?
No. But I might use their books as inspiration.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?My favorite work of fiction, period, is and long has been Middlemarch by George Eliot.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I plan first. It would make me absolutely crazy not to have a pretty good sense of where I’m going. That destination can change over time, though. Since I compose on a computer, it’s hard to say how many drafts I write. It’s all sort of one ever-evolving draft. But at some point I do complete what I call a first draft. That is, something as complete and as polished as I can make it. That’s pretty far along in the process. I get some feedback on that and do a revision that I call a second draft. And then I hope it’s ready for my agent to take a look at.
What was your journey to being a published author?
I was a kid who wrote constantly. I always wanted to be a novelist. In my twenties I spent many years in The Writers Studio, a writing school in New York City. It was not a degree program but a rigorous course of study with very close attention to craft. Every week we would read and analyze a couple of short stories or a book-length work of fiction or a poetry collection – poetry is very useful for fiction writers to study. I would examine these works minutely and then attempt to write a few pages that were very closely modelled on them. Sometimes I would literally put adjectives and nouns in the same places as the writer I was imitating, just to get the feel of what it was like to write sentences like hers or his. This is an incredibly fruitful kind of practice for a writer. After a long, long time I began to finish full-length short stories and send them off to literary magazines. And a while after that I decided I was ready to try a novel.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
That a novelist knows exactly what she’s put in her books. When I talk to book groups, they sometimes ask me, “Why did X do Y?” or “Does Z suffer from such-and-such a disorder?” My answer is: “I don’t know! If I knew, I would have said one way or the other!”
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
The kind of study and imitative practice I described above is invaluable. The other piece of advice would be to be patient. Very, very patient. Getting it right will probably take longer than you ever imagined. Which doesn’t mean don’t start. Do start!
What are you working on at the moment?
A third novel, about which my lips are sealed.