Wendell Steavenson: “Just Lose This Tolstoy Complex, Get Over Yourself and Write Something.”
In Conversation with Brad Listi on Otherppl
Wendell Steavenson is the guest. Her new book, Margot, is out now from W.W. Norton & Co.
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From the episode:
Brad Listi: In my research leading up to this conversation, I read something about you with respect to your writing, and in particular, with respect to your work on your book projects and how—at least in the earlier books—you had to give yourself a mantra in order to get yourself through the project and to make yourself believe that you could.
For the book about Georgia, the country, I think the mantra was, “You’re not wrong.” And then there was a work of nonfiction called The Weight of a Mustard Seed. And I think the mantra there was, “You haven’t failed yet.” And I’m wondering, did you have a mantra with Margot?
Wendell Steavenson: I can’t remember. But I do remember my mantra for the first novel I wrote. I remember just being in a fury and frustration with journalism, and I remember thinking, I’m just going to write a novel. I’m just going to sit down. I’m going to write 10,000 words a week until it’s done. And my mantra for that one was, Look, walk into any bookshop. How many crappy, mediocre novels are there in here? Is there any reason yours can’t be one of them? I was like, Just lose this Tolstoy complex and get over yourself and just write something.
And Margot. What was it? I don’t know. I think it was like, “It’s not over yet. Keep going. It’s not done yet.” You know, the fat lady has not sung yet. You’re still on the road. It’s still part of the process. Keep going. It’s a bit like life, you know—you think you’re going to get somewhere, you think that there is a summit to achieve, but it’s all uphill. That’s the journey. It’s just the uphill there isn’t a summit. There isn’t an other side. It’s just, it’s not done yet. Keep writing.
Wendell Steavenson is the author of the novel Margot, available from W.W. Norton & Co. It is the official February pick of the TNB Book Club. Steavenson, whose writing has appeared in The New Yorker, the Financial Times, and Granta, is the author of the novel Paris Metro and three books of reporting. Born in New York and raised in London, she now lives in France.