How I Write: Gregory Maguire
Published: January 27, 2007
|During the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War, Gregory Maguire became intrigued by the question of whether one was born "good" or "bad." It inspired him to explore the life of one of literature's most evil characters. The result was the novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, which became a New York Times bestseller and a hit Broadway musical. Since then, he has written four more novels for adults based on fairy tales, including Wicked's sequel, Son of a Witch. Maguire earned a Ph.D. in English and American Literature from Tufts University and is a founder and co-director of Children's Literature New England, Inc., a nonprofit educational charity. He lives in Massachusetts with his partner and their children. |
Credits: Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West; Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister; Lost; Mirror Mirror; Son of a Witch; and more than a dozen books for children.
"I do greatly believe that one writes, primarily, because it alleviates a certain pain of not-writing..."
I write because otherwise I process my apprehensions and subtle confusions too slowly to be useful. Writing helps me pull important matters into focus.
Children's novelist Louise Fitzhugh wrote in her groundbreaking Harriet the Spy something to the effect of "description is good for the soul and clears the brain like a laxative." The act of writing, of committing to paper and to the treasury of history, does make me lighter, better able to set down the weights of grievance and consternation and peer at the world more genuinely again.
While I require of myself to write every morning between 10 and noon, [in reality I usually] write between 3 and 4:30 p.m. This is because, obsessive fellow that I am, I spend from 8:40 a.m. until about 3 clearing away the e-mails and correspondence that have built up since the previous day. The kids' bus comes home at 3:50, and I try to keep typing until they remember where my office is, and then it's all over.
Having begun to teach myself to write fiction in fourth grade, I have rarely varied the process. I get a working title and a few satisfactory names for characters, twist and pummel them into a situation on Page 1, and write until I get to the final sentence. I rarely revise until the first draft is done. I almost always know something about the destination of the story-where the final scene takes place from a plot point of view, even if I don't actually know precisely what is going to happen in that scene or what it will mean.
Often I begin a story by hand until I have enough to type into the word processor; then, when the stack of pages begins to bulk up some, I have an easier time of composing on the word processor. I am cautious about writing too quickly, too cavalierly, on the word processor because I want to avoid an updated version of the criticism that H.L. Mencken, I believe, once gave a work of fiction: "This sounds as if it was written on a typewriter by a typewriter."
On retelling fairy tales:
When I am flustered or in need of consolation, I turn -don't we all?-to the things that gave me solace in the past. Photo-graphs of relatives and friends; music I've loved; people I've loved ... The fairy tales, and by extension much of what I read as a child, were a powerhouse of wonder to me, an opportunity to explore the theme of human capacity in brief, elegant parables of an un-earthly shapeliness. I've never lost my taste for them.
I do greatly believe that one writes, primarily, because it alleviates a certain pain of not-writing. ... Remembering that, writers-oh, but they know this!-might reconsider the usefulness of the daily output: the handwritten letter, the journal entry about nothing more historic or personal than the clouds and light. As a swimmer, one does laps; a pianist, scales. As a writer, one uses words as a kind of sandpaper, not to smooth out the surface, but to rub off the skin of the world and find out what it's really made of. This is a daily process.
Interview by Beth Bakkum
--Posted Jan. 27, 2007