Learning to Trust Yourself as a Writer

Hilary Mantel is one of Britain’s most  acclaimed writers. She is probably best known in the U.S. as the author of ‘Wolf Hall.’

“Just write as well as you can.” Did any writer ever utter better words of advice? And, yes, Hilary Mantel has a lot more to say.

Interviews seldom offer the chance to say anything worth hearing, no matter how well-prepared the interviewer. You are invited to rehash your material, saying it again in worse words. “What did you mean when you said….?” etc. Or “Why did you write this book?” It isn’t enough to say that you wrote it because it’s your job and you thought readers would like it.

I once heard Salman Rushdie in discussion on stage in St Louis, and he said that there’s only one question to ask an author. You point to a sentence, and say, “How did that get there?” Then a tale unfolds, the book’s hinterland. You get to see the shadows moving behind the substance.

Discussions with an audience are often more enlightening than interviews. You have witnesses, and parity, and might discover something even as you speak. In press interviews the author feels guarded and wary. And for my part, I don’t feel I am providing value. I just want to get through without being quoted out of context. When you read an interview back, you seldom recognize it as a true account of what passed. It may have been transcribed exactly, but it still misses the bit where you rolled your eyes. Unless it’s on screen, if course—but then there is usually a strict time limit, and constraint and self-consciousness.

What I’d always like to hear about, from other writers, is their beginnings—including the part of their lives before they consciously stated, “I am going to write a book.” I am especially curious about those who, like myself, come from an unliterary background—where a book was the last thing anyone expected from you….

Read it all at lithub.com