Electric Literature has published a short but very thoughtful interview with the writer Joanna Walsh. In it, Walsh describes her tendency to write about smaller, everyday incidents, which she connects to the lived experience of women. She also talks about the writers who have influenced her and thinks about the self-exposure writers experience in writing fiction.
This last question made me think about the kinds of exposure we, as fiction writers, face. There is the inevitable kind of exposure, of course. This is the kind of exposure where, unknown to the writer, the reader notices the writer’s patterns of thought, gaps in perception, repetition of plot movements, etc. But there is also the exposure experienced consciously from the writer’s side. And for me, when writing fiction, this kind of exposure ranges from subtle to profound.
Some of my pieces start as purely imagined worlds — I see the image of a city street in springtime, let’s say, and I notice the petals falling from its trees — and this gives rise to an entire reality where characters begin to move and speak and interact on their own. I do not feel very exposed while writing these kinds of stories. Other pieces, however, spring directly from my lived experience. They start with a thought or feeling I am having about a personal incident and they run with it. On these occasions, I create the world of the story in a more conscious and deliberate way. And I feel much more exposed.
But it’s fascinating to think that from a slightly more distanced perspective, the two kinds of exposure — the unconscious one which leads readers to see the writer’s patterns of thought and the conscious one which writers actually notice — are necessarily neither more nor less weighty than each other.