How I Write: Elizabeth Flock
Published: April 8, 2010
|Elizabeth Flock started her journalism career as a reporter at Time and People
magazines before appearing as a TV anchor and reporter in San
Francisco. She then moved to New York City, becoming a correspondent
for CBS News and covering stories worldwide, including England after
Princess Diana’s death and Pope John Paul II’s historic visit to Cuba.
In 2003, Flock launched her career’s next chapter with her debut novel,
But Inside I’m Screaming, immersing readers in the psyche of a
journalist who breaks down on the air and ends up in a mental
institution. In her next novel, the family drama Me & Emma,
Flock channeled the voice of an impoverished young North Carolina girl.
“I love the way children see the world,” Flock told an interviewer. The
novel spent six weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and Booksense called it one of the best books of 2005. Flock’s other novels, Everything Must Go and Sleepwalking in Daylight,
capture contemporary suburban angst. A graduate of Vanderbilt
University in Nashville, Tenn., she lives in New York City and
Northeast Harbor, Maine.|
Why: Writing chose me. I think if you are really a writer, you just have to write. I’ve always incorporated writing into every single job I’ve had. In some form or fashion, I’ve had to write. I think it goes to the core of who you are. It’s about having to write, and sitting down every single day. Having to write and going through the soul-crushing moments where you can’t find anything to say. Writing novels gives me an ability to express myself and explore a totally different part of myself that I never really let come out before.|
Routine: I write in the afternoons. I have a workspace downtown [in New York City] called The Writers Room, and it’s an urban writers colony. A bunch of writers, or screenwriters, poets, nonfiction writers, novelists, magazine writers ... anyone who shows serious intent, can become a member. You can meet and talk to other writers. I’ve gotten a lot out of it, much more than just having a desk to go to every day. I commute and treat it like a real job.
Revisions: I revise as I go along. I really enjoy revising myself and editing myself. A typical writing day is rereading what I’ve already written. Hopefully moving it forward in some way, leaving off and taking copious notes about where I want to go the next day. And I’ll write myself little notes ... “Don’t second guess it. Do it.” ... That is an ideal writing day for me.
Process: I make these file cards and put bullet points of what happens in each chapter. For instance, if I have a character meet her future husband in 1965, which is Chapter 2, I don’t have to, when I’m 300 pages in, try and remember or find in a huge document where that scene takes place. For me, I just go back to writing out things the old-school way on in-dex cards. You can shift those around and shuffle the deck a little bit.
Ideas: Me & Emma started with the character’s name—Carrie Parker—and she developed before I knew I was setting it in North Carolina. Based on where the story was unfolding, just logistically, it was a perfect place to set it with hills and a mountainous region where there could be towns that are map dots that are lost in time, in a way, and untouched, in another way. It came out of her, more than anything else.
Influences: Raymond Carver, first of all. Mostly, I go to the masters. When I wrote Everything Must Go, I was really in a [John] Cheever phase. I wanted to recapture and remember that suburban angst that he mastered. I didn’t get my MFA, and I didn’t really take much creative writing at all. I teach myself while I’m writing, and I do that by taking notes in books ... for Everything Must Go it was Cheever. Jim the Boy [by Tony Earley] was during Me & Emma. William Maxwell is another big influence on me.
Advice: Write every day; that is the best advice. I’m not saying you will end up with a book or a magazine piece. ... But what you’ll end up doing is being proud of yourself for writing every day. When I’m doing anything else but writing, I’m feeling guilty I’m not writing or I’m wishing I were writing. But when I’m writing, I’m not thinking about anything else.
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Interview by Elizabeth King Humphrey, a North Carolina-based writer.
(This article appeared in the May 2010 issue of The Writer.)