Lee Smith on writing



Lee Smith, left, signed my copy of her latest book, Guests on Earth, and then agreed to this photo. I got overly excited and made a crazy face.

If you believe in the regionalism of writing (I’m on the fence — books don’t have accents so can prose really sound Southern versus Northern?) Lee Smith is among the most important contemporary Southern writers. She’s certainly among the most prolific and delightful of living writers. Not that I’ve met all of them, but Smith is effortlessly hilarious, mirthful and smart without losing an ounce of sass. She gave a keynote address and a lecture during the North Carolina Writers’ Network Fall Conference. The following are notes from those presentations.

• I have come to believe, over the years, that I could tell the truth better in fiction.

• When you’re writing fiction, it’s the real stuff, but you up the ante.

• You put everything about your life, up to that point, into your first novel. [Then] you really should wait awhile before you write your second novel. My second novel was terrible. …I’d used up my childhood at that point, I was happily married, and I had nothing to say. I finally made that imaginative leap, which was a real necessity because most of us writers can’t be out there, living like crazy. …We need to stop writing what we know.

• You just can’t make up anything as fascinating as real life. Reality will trump imagination every time.

About her forthcoming memoir, Dimestore:
• As soon as the actual places were gone, I felt this tremendous need to re-create them in words and people them with those of us who were there. …I don’t want to live an unexamined life. I want to make a record of all I’ve loved.

• Read like a writer. Take it apart. If it works for you, see why it works.

• In memoir, you have to develop yourself as a character. You need to develop a little distance from yourself. …To develop character is to up the ante.

• The very act of writing makes me remember more and more. …Writing is self-repair. It doesn’t necessarily have to be writing for publication. There are many reasons to write, and publication may be the last.

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