Houston readers and writers alike crowded the Cullen Theater last month to see Annie Proulx read as part of the Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series. She shared an excerpt from her latest book, the award-winning novel Barkskins and gave a brief interview after the reading.
Earlier that same day, as part of an Inprint Craft Talk/Q&A, Proulx generously offered students at the University of Houston a rare opportunity to hear her thoughts on literary craft. Though quick to point out she has never taught creative writing, she answered questions and shared advice culled from her own process. We’ve excerpted a few points from her talk to share with Inprint’s audience:
- Get involved with words. “[…] the words of your background, the words of your place, the words of your parents.” Proulx emphasized the value of enlarging your vocabulary, especially with rare or unusual language that has fallen out of use: “[…] words that used to be so meaningful about how things were made and cared for.”
- Learn some languages. Read foreign authors. “Pick several languages and start reading.” She described how discovering literature through other languages, and authors you might not otherwise have been exposed to, can deepen and expand your sense of the world.
- Walk. “One of the interesting things about writing is that if you get stuck with a character or a plot or even the purpose of what you’re doing, that walking and thinking about it usually resolves the problem. […] There is a connection between the way your mind works and walking.”
- Be your own fact-checker. Proulx described the importance of history, and historical accuracy, in fiction (she studied history and has worked as an historian). “History and place are still the rocks on which I found everything that I write.”
- Try big things. Proulx urged the audience to move beyond the anecdotal and to address bigger things that reflect the change a writer observes in the world. “I want you to say something when you write, not just write.”
- Write by hand from time to time. “Writing by hand ties in with the walking thing. There is something in the physical act of hand-writing. Get yourself a really beautiful pen and a really nice notebook and do it.”