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Lily King interview: How I Write

"I love a lot of dialogue in books because I love humans communicating."

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Award-winning and bestselling author Lily King’s latest book, Writers & Lovers, is set in the Boston area during the 1990s. This cleverly written novel features a compelling protagonist, a struggling 31-year-old writer named Casey. Readers follow Casey as she navigates a tumultuous time in her life, dealing with intense grief, creative struggles, and a love triangle. King’s beautiful writing creates emotional resonance, making Writers & Lovers an impactful and interesting read.

Writing about the ’90s

I didn’t even think about it. It just came out that way, and it felt so natural. I needed to have those answering machines in there. I think for a lot of writers, we’re still taking time getting used to very modern technology. For tension, it’s wonderful to have those delays and gaps in communication – so it was useful having it take place more than 20 years in the past. It also felt natural to the feel of what Casey was going through.

Starting a new novel

I very much see how it develops. I usually start with a situation that involves some sort of tension or some uncomfortable situation my character is in. I’m not exactly sure how the character will get out of it or what challenges there will be. I often set out on a path, and then at some point, I have to backtrack and go a different way. I take a lot of notes beforehand, and I have an idea, but then I look back and see what feels right – and where I should go from there.

Dialogue

I love reading dialogue but not writing it. I love a lot of dialogue in books because I love humans communicating. Like everything about writing, I don’t like to think too much about it. I don’t get cerebral about it – I just try to listen and hear what they would say. I write it down, and if it doesn’t feel right, I correct it a few days later. Later, I might change it back. It’s an active listening process that comes from years of hearing people talk. Sometimes there’s a certain character you didn’t think would have a voice, but they wind up having a strong voice that you can’t ignore.

Revision

I write by hand, so some of that is built-in. Sometimes I write half a notebook by hand and can’t go any further. I’ll have to type it into the computer at that point, which is my first step in revision. But I mostly keep going in the notebook until I can’t go any more. I have to push through, so I don’t go back or tinker. Then I try to get a full draft on the computer before I print it out and revise the whole thing, over and over. 

Writing routine

I think routine is 99.9% of it. I have to write in the morning, and I have to eat before I write – usually eggs. I always have a cup or two of black tea. After kids, now I eat and read a little of the paper, and then I take my tea and work for as many hours as I can. I count my pages and write it in the back of the notebook to keep track. A good day is over two pages and a great day is four and a half or more.

—Allison Futterman is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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