SM: No, no, I write compulsively. Writing for me is a pleasure. I don’t really relate to that macho ideal of, like — I don’t remember who said this, but, like, William Styron or Norman Mailer, or some guy said, “Writing is easy, you just go to the typewriter and open a vein.” I just find that laughably childish. I write, I’m a mother, I take care of a house, I work, I teach — I don’t really have time to indulge that narcissistic ideal. I write compulsively when I have time, and I think generally it works out. I think most women writers have lives that more closely resemble that model, especially if they have children.
ES: In my college writing classes, I was always hearing professors say stuff about needing to have distance from certain emotional subjects — particularly grief — in order to be able to write about it effectively. I’ve always wondered how much validity there is to that.
SM: That distance is good?
ES: Right, or that it’s requisite before you try to write about a subject — like, that being too emotionally involved with a subject somehow inhibits serious work.
SM: I understand where that instruction is coming from, but I don’t really think there are general rules about writing. Which is, of course, depressing to think about. For me, the experience of writing every book has been absolutely distinct from the experience of writing every other book. But also, if there were general writing rules, who would need an editor, who would need a teacher? We’d just apply the rules and then it would all work. So I don’t believe that, you know, distance is good, and deranging emotion is bad.