How I Write: Linda Greenlaw
Published: October 24, 2002
|Linda Greenlaw, 41, appreciates her smooth voyage to bestseller status, but just the same, the fisherman/writer would rather be out on her boat. "My pipe dream," she says, "is to make enough money from writing to go fishing just because I want to and not because I have to pay bills." Hers was a quick path to publication: In his hit book The Perfect Storm, Sebastian Junger called Greenlaw, then running a commercial swordfishing boat, "one of the best captains ... on the entire East Coast." With that, a publisher approached her for her own story, which became The Hungry Ocean (1999), and she became a consultant for the film drama about the horrendous storm, which sank another fishing vessel, killing six of Greenlaw's friends. In her latest book, The Lobster Chronicles (2002), she chronicles a season as a commercial lobster fisherman. Greenlaw, who earned a degree in English and government from Colby College, lives on Isle au Haut, a tiny island seven miles off the Maine coast. She said she hoped to start work on a novel late this year--but not until her lobster traps were out of the water.|
Why: I was very content to be a fisherman; writing was not something I ever anticipated doing. I never had the burning desire to write; I was approached by a publisher. Because the first book did well, the publisher asked if I'd like to try another, and I was enthusiastic about trying it again. I knew how fortunate I was because I have friends who have written and written and can't hire someone to read their work.
How: I work in a notebook longhand and I make all of my corrections and changes. I cross things out and put arrows in the margin and stick different pages in. I wear the paper out. Then, when I get to a point with a section or chapter where I'm making it worse instead of better, I type it into the computer. When I type it into the computer, it's really the final draft. Typing it in is my final chance to edit anything, but really, I've done all the work in the notebook.
I don't outline. I feel that with both my books I had a natural outline. With The Hungry Ocean I had a swordfishing trip; in The Lobster Chronicles I'm writing about a lobster season. I'm writing for the most part about my own experience, because they're very personal books.
When and where: I write basically wherever I'm living; I wrote the majority of The Lobster Chronicles on the island. I write in the morning when I get up, until about lunchtime. Maybe four hours a day.
What's harder: My only asset is my ability to work. Writing is harder for me than fishing. They're both hard work. I really enjoy fishing, but with writing, I really don't enjoy the process.
Influences: I know who my favorite authors are, but I don't know if they've influenced my writing at all. My two favorite authors are Ernest Hemingway and Pat Conroy. Robert Frost was quoted in a biography talking about the sense of sound when you read someone. When I read Hemingway and Conroy, I like their sense of sound.
Advice: I think I've written about things I'm passionate about--my vast experience of two books! I've written about fishing, about the island, and hopefully people will get from The Lobster Chronicles that I love where I live.
For me, writing is such a discipline that I think you have to do it every single day--and not every day is a great day of writing. But I suspect some people think writers just write when they're inspired to write, and I think if you wait for that inspiration, you won't get a whole lot done. Quite often when I'm writing, something will just come to me, trigger some memory or thought, and what I end up writing about is much better than what I was planning to write about when I sat down. So if you write every day, you can wind up with something you didn't really plan to do.
Photograph by Will Ryan