From a new online exclusive:
Elizabeth Gilbert interviewed by Vendela Vida
THE BELIEVER: You said that when it comes to your own work you’re “plodding and disciplined and methodical.” Can you please elaborate on this? Do you have a pattern? Is it the same pattern with all books? How long did it take you to write The Signature of All Things? It’s a long, dense book that, as we’ve discussed, required a great deal of research. What does your method entail?
ELIZABETH GILBERT: Goethe said, “Never hurry, never rest.” That’s how I write: methodically and carefully. Never in a fugue state, never in a blitz of inspiration, but never stuck in the grip of paralysis, either. When I’m at work, I get up early, go to my desk, and just plod along for a very reasonable four hours at most. Then I take a break for lunch, walk the dog, do my emails, think about the book all afternoon, have dinner with my husband, and return to it the next day after a good night’s sleep. It is the least glamorous means of writing one could ever imagine, but it absolutely works for me. Sit there all morning, and the pages come.
I think again I can point to my mother for having taught me how to work steadfastly. I remember how she used to use the kitchen timer a lot when we were kids, to count out the one hour that we needed to practice the piano, or clean our rooms, or do homework. I was never the student in high school or college who pulled all-nighters, either, and for the same reason: I’d had it drilled into me as a child to work as you go, to work the same pace every day, to spread out the discomfort and the boredom of work evenly, as well as spreading out the inspiration and the joy. What can I say: we are Swedes. Not glitzy, not romantic, but very reliable. The pattern is the same with all books. I can no more imagine writing at 3 a.m., or drunk, or stoned, or high on Red Bull, or in my dirty pajamas, than I can imagine writing on a papyrus roll. I have no idea how people survive that kind of reckless, devil-may-care work pattern. And with research it’s kind of the same thing—though I can put in way more hours researching than writing.