More from Jim Lehrer
Published: April 1, 2004
|Did you know at the start while writing White Widow and No Certain Rest where they were going to go?|
No, I had no idea. I do some outlining, but that's mostly a device to keep going rather than, "Oh, my God, now here's what I have to do next." It's never a rigid outline; it's a kind of push-forward outline. And everything is always subject to chance, based on what happens.
If you create characters correctly and they're real, they pretty much control certain things. I mean, you can't have a character do something that's completely out of character. So you lose a little of your God function after a while if you establish your characters and your situation effectively.
Many of our readers are concerned about finding the time to write during the young parenting years, when there are so many demands. How was it for your writing routine during these years?
Well, that was the hard time. It was difficult then. There were long periods of time when I wasn't able to write. I had a job, I had a family, and I had my writing. And I found I could not do all three and something had to give. I didn't want to get rid of my family; I had to work for a living.
I didn't seriously get back writing the way I do now until after my kids were in high school or beyond. So it's been since the early '80s that I really got back to it.
It's hard. It's not only the time, it's energy that's required. There's physical energy as well as mental energy required to hang in there on a steady basis to write a novel. In my case, I have got to stay with it; I've got to have it with me all the time and not let it get cold. If you've got a crying baby and all that, it's difficult.
Which writers have really influenced you?
One in particular from a writing standpoint is Georges Simenon, who wrote some 500 novels in all, including the Inspector Maigret stories. He was a master of creating characters and scenes and atmosphere, with a spare use of words. He became kind of my writing mentor; I seldom travel without a Simenon novel. I have most of them that have been translated into English.
Finally, it seems only fair to ask this question of someone who has probably interviewed thousands of people in his long journalism career. Many of our readers conduct interviews for their nonfiction articles. What advice would you offer them about interviewing and getting people to open up?
The number-one rule for interviewing, whether on television or for a print story, is that you must be prepared enough to be able to listen to the answers. It is the biggest failure of people who interview that they only prepare questions; they don't prepare their minds in a way that they can listen to the answers. And if you cannot do that, all you're doing is: You read a question, you get an answer; you read a question, you get an answer. And you don't really get the feel of what the person is saying.
If you're not careful, you can say things like, "Well, senator, should we sell more grain to Cuba?" And he says, "Yes, Jim, I think we should sell more grain to Cuba, but before we do that we should bomb Havana." And I say, "What kind of grains, senator?"
And so, preparation for interviews is the first 12 rules of interviewing--but not necessarily writing up thousands of questions. It's preparation so you can engage the person you are interviewing, and the only way you can engage that person is to have done your homework in such a way that you can listen to the answers and understand them. That's my number-one advice.
--Posted April 1, 2004