What’s Your Process engages authors in conversation about the writing process. From poets to playwrights to prosaists, writers from Canada and beyond share personal insight into the vocation. We find out about obsessive routines, perils of procrastination, and tools and advice for the aspiring wordsmith.
We recently spoke with Michael LaPointe, a writer and critic from Vancouver. Michael contributes to the Times Literary Supplement, and his work has appeared in The Walrus, Maisonneuve, the Literary Review of Canada, The Globe & Mail and the Los Angeles Review of Books.
What’s on your writing desk? Or, if you don’t write at the same desk every day, describe your favourite place to write from.
In addition to the always-present Norton anthology and etymological dictionary, my desk currently holds books pertinent to the novel I’m working on – Janet Malcolm, Alfred Hayes, et al. – a stack of books for critical work – the novels of Horacio Castellanos Moya – and books I’m looking forward to reading in my spare time by Alexander Theroux, Elena Ferrante and Stefan Zweig.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received about writing?
I’m having difficulty recalling an instance when someone advised me on writing in general. Rather, the most beneficial lessons I’ve learned from other writers have been delivered by quiet example. Seeing others pursue their art has been instructive and motivational, though it’s also made me aware of the difficulties and precariousness of such a life—and its humour.
If you’re up to it, please describe your daily writing routine when working on a piece.
My routine is to wake up whenever it feels right, prepare a pot of coffee and sit down at the desk. If I’m working leisurely, I’ll do one session of about three hours before lunch, and then go to the cafe to read. If intensely, I’ll do another block of writing in the afternoon. In general, I like to finish when the average workday is over, before that evening’s basketball games.
What’s your favourite book or online resource about the writing process?
The Paris Review’s “Art of Fiction” interviews are unsurpassed in their insight into the processes of writers, even when they’re glib or evasive, or even offensive.
Most if not all writers give in to procrastination from time to time—even Margaret Atwood writes on a computer that’s deliberately not hooked up to the internet! What do you find is your biggest distraction or barrier to writing, and how do you overcome it?
Writing in the morning and writing longhand circumvent most methods of procrastination: there’s not much social distraction in the morning, and pen and paper don’t have Facebook. (Anyway I’ve always suspected my work ethic is superior to Atwood’s.) The challenge, of course, is to set up life in such a way that you’re largely in command of your time. I suppose I overcome this by living modestly, being in good health, and not having children or a car.
Finally, what’s your #1 tip on writing for the aspiring writer?
Read at least twice as much as you write. And get in messy love affairs (and then get out).