The Word Process is an interview series focusing on the writing process and aimed at illuminating the many ways that writers approach the same essential task. In this interview, Samantha Hunt talks about the “dead people’s things” that surround her writing desk, why writers should “revise forever,” and why she works on many projects at the same time.
As part of Columbia’s Creative Writing Lecture series, Samantha will be speaking at Dodge Hall on December 5, 2018 at 7 pm. Read more information about the event, which is free and open to the public, at arts.columbia.edu.
What does your writing desk look like? What objects, photographs, texts or talismans do you keep there?
It has only just dawned on me, now that you’ve asked, my writing desk is surrounded by dead people’s things: my neighbor’s rocker, my dad’s socks, typewriter and pencil stubs (Half the pressure, Twice the speed!); one grandma’s bookcase and three miniature hats she made, my uncle’s dollhouse, a box my grandpa built as a boy, a painting my other grandpa made, my grandma’s diaries from 1914, 1915, a photo Patchen took by the Tigris. But there are also signs of the living! There are many books and a sewing machine, supplies for making stuff, photos of my babies, a bag of peanuts for the crows, a thought from Matisse, “Do I believe in God? Yes, when I work.” I keep many rocks in my studio and, umm, a dead hawk I found.
Describe a typical day in your writing life.
I write in the pre-dawn. Early-rising and insomnia work well for me. I have a large, loud family so I built a small house in our back yard, closer to the woods. When I step into that little house, I am so full and glad, I go a bit crazy with joy. Then I write until the day gets noisy and I can no longer ignore it.
When it comes to the craft of writing, what do you think is the most important quality or skill for a writer to possess in order to excel, and why?
Revise forever. So many people rush. Plus, you should work very hard. People often say to me, “You’re a writer? How lucky.” There was little luck involved, unless working constantly is luck.
What book, poem, story, essay or quotation inspires you as a writer? What are your literary touchstones, the things that come to mind as you sit down to write a first draft?
“It’s just sound. It’s the sound of the dead, and the dead don’t make living sounds.” -Suzan-Lori Parks
“The scariest thing,” the devil says. “Okay. I’ll give you two things. Three things. No, just two. The third one is a secret.” -Kelly Link
“I keep thinking I hear someone behind us. But we can’t look back. That’s one of the rules today.” – Janet Cardiff
“The years of the second war, and the decades after, were a blinding, bad time for me about which I could not say a thing even if I wanted to. –W.G. Sebald
What do you do when you feel stuck in your writing?
I always write many things at the same time. When one has a foul odor, I give my attention to a less stinky project.
What’s the best advice about craft or process that you’ve ever received?
My dad said, “A lot of people aren’t going to like the stories you write.”
Photo credit: Marion Ettlinger