Louise Penny- Writer

 What made you want to become a writer?

I was always a solitary child.  As punishment when I was bad my mother would send me outside to play.  She knew all I ever wanted to do was lie on my bed reading.  And dreaming.  Since the day I read Charlotte’s Web and lost my fear of spiders I’ve wanted to write.  To lose my fears, perhaps.

 Was the journey difficult?

I was eight when I knew I wanted to write and forty-eight when my first book came out.  I tried earlier but I honestly had nothing to say.  I was quite wrapped up in myself and a good writer, I believe, is wrapped up in humanity.  Curious about the rest of the world.  I needed to mature enough, and become less self-centred and selfish.  Then I could write.  I was also handicapped by a very happy home life and as we know, most writers need to be warped just a little.  It took time to get warped enough.

 Any lessons learned on your writer’s journey?

To enjoy it.  To understand writing is a blessing, a privilege.  It can be hard at times, but the reality is, most people have it far harder than writers.  Aren’t we lucky?  To be able to express ourselves in a way we choose?  To live in a time and a society that allows and even encourages it?   To be asked to contribute to this marvelous site – now that’s great good fortune.  And all I have to do in return is have the courage to face the empty page each day – and face the things deep down inside me that don’t necessarily want to be seen.  But way more difficult things are asked of people each day.  I get a little tired of writers who complain how difficult it is.  Yes, it’s hard, but so is working as a short order cook, or in a car wash, or a job that offers no satisfaction.

Each day I wake up and count my blessings.  This might sound silly, but it’s powerful.

Where does that inner drive to write come from?

Honestly, I don’t know.  I think we all have something we’re meant to be doing.  I think this is simply my path.  And I’m so lucky to know it.

How do you keep readers turning the pages?

You’re presuming they do!  Thank you.  Well since I write murder mysteries I hope they’re just dying to know whodunit.  Beyond that I figure if characters are compelling, and fun and interesting and real, we begin to care about them, and want to know what happens.  It’s also a great technique to try to end each chapter with a bit of a cliff-hanger.

How often will you revise and re-write your book?

The first draft is quite rough – I think of it as a huge hunk of clay (or mud).  All sorts of words, ideas, thoughts.  Then for the revision my job is to chip away at it, shape it, whittle it…add here, take away there…until something elegant and shapely forms.  And the story and characters get clearer.  I’m sure you’ve heard it before, that writing is re-writing, and great writers must be prepared to kill their young.  I know that to be true.  It’s probably a good thing I don’t have actual children myself.

 What are some creative ways you’ve learned to generate ideas?

I get ideas everywhere.  I have boxes in my office labeled, ‘Book 4’,  ‘Book 5’  etc.  And when I come across something I think will fit I jot it down and toss the paper into the box.  I get ideas from books, magazines, overheard conversations.  I LOVE reading poetry and get lots of ideas from poems, oddly enough.  I also love reading books of quotes, and get thoughts there too.  Basically I’m a vulture.  Or Dr. Frankenstein.  Lopping off other people’s thoughts and putting them together.  I steal from everyone.  And I stare into space a lot.  People think I’m doing nothing, but in fact I’m creating the universe.

What are some practical solutions for writers block?

I suffered writers block for six years.  Then I realized two things – I was taking myself WAY too seriously.  Trying to write the best book ever written.  And I was also trying to write the wrong book.  So I looked at the books I love to read and realized most of them are mysteries, so I decided to write a book just for myself.  A book I’d love to read.  And it worked.  No pressure.  Just fun.  That was STILL LIFE, which went on to win best first mystery prizes in Canada and Britain.  Amazing.  If you’re suffering writers block, relax.  Don’t try so hard.  And ask yourself whether the book you have in mind is really the story you want to tell.  Maybe there’s a reason you’re blocked.  Maybe there’s another story crying to get out.

Do you have a favorite book?

To Kill a Mockingbird.  Sublime.  It’s simple, clear, elegant, powerful without trying too hard.  Lovely.

Do you have a favorite time of day when you write?

I always write in the morning after breakfast.  I go to the office and don’t leave until I’ve written 2,000 words.  I try not to be too rigid about it, though.  If it just isn’t working I won’t imprison myself, but I find discipline is a great asset for a writer – or at least for me.

What is one saying or proverb you live by?

Do unto others.

What advice would you give to kids who want to pursue a career in writing?

Believe in yourself.

Don’t listen to people who tell you you can’t do it.  You can.  You know you can.  Don’t chicken out.  Writing is worth all the work.  Believe me.

Read.  Writers read.  And, strangely enough, they write.  No one plays a great game of hockey the first time on the ice.  Great players practice.  And great writers practice too.

Writers also notice things.  And they listen.

Have the courage to look deep inside yourself at all the nasty little feelings you have, because I have them too.  We all do.  I’m petty and over-sensitive and jealous and afraid of failing, and afraid of rejection.  But I’m also courageous and kind and loving and loyal.  These qualities I own, I know what they feel like, and can give them to my characters to make them human.  So can you, if you look deep enough.

And have fun!  What a joy writing is – not always easy, but it frees our hearts and makes them sing and soar.  It’s the best job ever, and worth working for!

Where can we find out more about your work?

I have a website.   www.louisepenny.com    There’s a ‘contact me’ page there.  I’d love to hear from you.

Many thanks for inviting me into your lives like this.  And know, if I can do it, so can you.


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About Jolene Owen (Editor-at-large)

Jolene Owen is an interactive journalist working in the transmedia sector. View all posts by Jolene Owen (Editor-at-large)

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