There Ain’t No Muse: A Conversation with Nora Roberts
Conducted by Clarissa Sansone
I wanted to ask you about your writing process, because your writing comes across as fluid and effortless, and it seems as though you’re “channeling the muse.” Is this really the case? What is your writing and revision process like?
Nora Roberts: Well, first: There ain’t no muse. If you sit around and wait to channel the muse, you can sit around and wait a long time. It’s not effortless. If only. Well, if it was, then everyone would do it, and where would we be then? So I work really hard to make it as fluid as possible, as readable and entertaining as possible.
I’ll vomit out the first draft: bare-bones, get-the-story-down. I don’t edit and fiddle as I go, because I don’t know what’s going to happen next. Once I get the discovery draft down, then I’ll go back to page one, chapter one, and then I start worrying about how it sounds, where I’ve made mistakes, where I’ve gone right, what else I have to add, where’s the texture, where’s the emotion. I start fixing. And then, after I’ve done that all the way through again, I’ll go back one more time, and that’s when I’m really going to worry about the language. And the rhythm, and making sure that I haven’t made a mistake, that I’ve tied up all the loose ends reasonably. It doesn’t necessarily mean everything ties up for every reader, because some want it one way and some want it another, and you just have to be true to the story, so it’s all plausible at the end of the day.
You seem to have a very good ear for language and sounds and rhythm. Do you write any poetry or read poetry?
NR: I don’t write it, that’s for sure. There’s certainly some I like to read. It’s probably not the first thing I’m going to pull off the shelf if I just want a story, but I like language. There’s a lot of poetry in fiction, if it’s written well. Sometimes it’s staccato, and sometimes it flows. It all depends.
Do you have the time to actually sit down and read books very often?
NR: I think if you don’t read, you’d never have the chops to write, and why would you, if you didn’t love stories and want to lose yourself in what someone else has sweated over? I love to read, and I really think books are the most important tool in a writer’s toolbox.
When you talk about novels with poetic language, which authors come to mind?
NR: One of the most musical is the opening to Rebecca: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” And then the way she goes on from there. Mary Stewart is one of my all-time favorites. Look at Robert Parker, who is very distinct. He really knows that good writing is brief. His poetry is very urban, and very slick, and very smart. You look at Elizabeth Berg and hers is so detailed and visual. Look at Stephen King: You see all the color. He’s the great American colorist. When you read one of his stories, or course you’re terrified, as you should be, but you also see everything. His poetry is visual for me.
Are you an omnivorous reader?
NR: Oh yeah. There may be times when, after a really long day at the keyboard, my brain is too tired to read. And that’s when I get my stories on TV. Once I start a book I’m a gobbler, so it’s very rare that I’ll read a couple chapters and put it down.
Is it primarily fiction that you read?
NR: Yeah. I like popular fiction. I write commercial fiction because that’s what I like best to sit down and read.