10-Minute Writer's Workshop: Kate Christensen

Jan 5, 2016

In this 10-Minute Writer's Workshop web extra, author Kate Christensen - novelist, memoirist, foodie. We caught up with her, at the farm in northern New Hampshire she calls home, after the publication of her latest book, How to Cook a Moose.

 

Harder to write - the first sentence or the last?
I think the first sentence is easy to write, but it's hard to think up. I think I can't start writing something until I've got that first sentence... that is the thing that starts the engine, the key in the ignition. And the last sentence is the sentence that I write toward as I write the whole book. So, in a way, they're the hardest sentences, but they are also, once you get to them, the easiest.

Your personal worst distraction from getting work done?
[Laughs] Oh god, what isn't? I will take any opportunity to be distracted from writing. I would say cooking, and probably online Scrabble as a close second.

Any habits you would encourage writers to take up - maybe to avoid those distractions?
Everyone says "discipline," and it's become the thing we say to younger writers. And I'm going to say it again, because there's no substitution for it. Writing involves a lot of fear, and discipline is a way to get over your fear, because you just do it. I would say writing badly is a really good idea, allowing yourself not to write badly, realizing that your mother isn't looking over your shoulder, and that no one can see anything until you show them - you're completely free and no one is watching.

That's a good lead into the next question - do you edit as you go, or wait until the end, and why?
It depends on what I'm working on. It's a real temptation to edit as I go, but I find that if I let myself just keep going, I have more momentum. It's a constant back and forth between the brain in my head and the brain in my gut... and when I'm writing a first draft, I have to bypass the brain in my head as much as I can, and let it unfurl from a visceral sense of story.

Where's the best environment for you to do that?
Right now, at this table where I'm standing, looking out at the mountains, the White Mountains, and with the kitchen right nearby, so I can get up and cook when I need a distraction.

What do you think is the most common mistake new writers make?
I can only talk about myself as a new writer, looking waaay back to the dawn of time... I was trying to be great, I was trying to write in a voice that wasn't my own, that I thought of as the "great American writing voice." And until I got over that, and allowed myself to go back to my thirteen-year-old self and the way I wrote in eighth grade, when I wrote my first novel, I could not get anything under way.

Anything - books, tools - you would recommend to learn more about writing?
I would say just read novels. That's the best way to learn how to write. If you want to be a novelist, read all different kinds of novels. Right now I'm reading Moby-Dick, and, of course, it's one of the greatest novels ever written, so I'm going to go with Moby-Dick as my recommendation.

The best piece of writing advice you've ever gotten?
Something we all used to say to one another when we were writing students at Iowa, and I'm not sure who came up with it first, but we would all remind each other, "write straight into the heart of what you're most afraid of saying," and we would say it whenever one of us got stuck - and it always worked.