How did you become a writer?
I was always a reader, but the idea of becoming a writer never occurred to me until I left home for college and my head and heart began to overflow with language. My freshman English professor, a poet, suggested I take a creative writing class after reading the wild tangle of my required essays. I was petrified…and transfixed. I fell flat on my face more times than I can count, but I kept at it. I just couldn’t stop playing with language.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
Reading fiction by Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, and Carson McCullers gave me permission to write about the rural South. George Garrett, one of the most generous writing mentors around, provided affirmation and counseled patience. Richard Ford kicked me in the behind when I needed it. Writing isn’t supposed to be easy. We don’t deserve easy. He reminded me of that fact. Joy Williams has been a powerful recent influence. Her fiction probes what’s truly existential, the unknowable and forever strange.
When and where do you write?
I work best in the mornings…in a small, quiet study with a window that keeps the weather and birds right at my shoulder. But my process has shifted when it’s had to. When I had a baby at home, I grabbed any hour I could find. When I was working 60-70 hours a week at my job, I scribbled on the weekends and during holidays. Turns out I can write under less than ideal conditions when not writing at all is the alternative. It’s been good for me to discover (and rediscover) that truth.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a collection of very short stories, some of which look more like fables or parables than “regular” stories, at least to me. And I’m reading a lot, trying to blaze a trail for the next novel.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
No. I’ve always been able to find a short story to work on. I love the form. It just cries out liberation to me. Whenever I feel stickiness setting in, especially if I’m clawing at a novel, I try to counter it by reading—classics I love, crime novels, exciting new fiction, anything that shuts down my editorial mind and takes me into that reader’s kingdom of wonder.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t believe that graduate school will somehow make you a writer. Go into the world, get a job that sustains you, and write. If you are writing because you haveto, if you are writing when no one is looking and no one cares, then you may indeed be a writer—and you need to cope with that.
What’s your advice to new writers?
Read. Read like a crazy person. And read what you love. Don’t shackle yourself with other people’s tastes. Just bury yourself in all the great work that’s out there. Reading is the foundation we all need, and we’re building, and repairing, that foundation each and every day.
Alyson Hagy is the author of eight works of fiction, most recently the novel Scribewhich is a finalist for the Southern Book Prize. She lives and works in Laramie, Wyoming.