by Mira Ptacin
February 1, 2011
Details & Doubt
Author/Teacher/Traveler Mary Morris talks about her nemesis
1. What is your writing routine?
I try and write between about 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. That’s my ideal routine, but I am a restless person and don’t always stick to that. But it seems as if I’m always writing anyway. I love to write in motion. On buses, trains, planes. In fact I am answering these questions on the D train. I read this funny thing once called “How to know if you are a Writer.” Basically they’d taken out the word “alcoholic” and substituted “writer.” So the questions were, “Do you have to write every day?” “Do you get nervous at a certain time of day if you aren’t writing.” Well, that’s me. My drug of choice seems to be writing.
2. What is your definition of “truth” in terms of writing creative nonfiction?
I never make up something that didn’t happen a la James Frey or invent characters that don’t exist. I don’t do composite characters. Everything I write about in nonfiction is true. But I will take liberties with structure and storyline and dialogue.
3. What is the biggest nemesis to your creative spirit?
Details and doubt. I am filled with doubt (but perhaps a writer should be) and I am also consumed by details. I have a lot of demands on me, both real and imagined. Also I need to clean my house before I can write (this is a real problem). I need a sense of outer order before I can create inner order. Maybe it is because of my doubt that I allow the details to get in the way.
4. What do you hope people take away from your writing?
This is an interesting question. I’ve never really thought about it before, but I write because I must and because I enjoy it so I hope people will enjoy it. So I want people to enjoy it. I guess I have found that some of my writing, especially my travel memoirs, has given hope and inspiration to people who need to make a change in their lives. I have found the letters from these people very moving. There’s one girl who dropped out of school when she had a baby. She read one of my books and went back to school. That meant a lot as you can imagine.
Tolstoy, George Elliott, Garcia Marquez, Dostoyevsky because each made me realize that you can create a world and make people believe it exists. I love short story writers such as Grace Paley, Raymond Carver, Ann Beattie. They have taught me that less is more. And I am a huge fan of Joyce Carol Oates – not everything, but I think she’s written five masterpieces. I admire the fact that she is unstoppable. She’s always telling a story and she never pulls a punch. I love her stamina. At times if something isn’t going right (or if I am plagued by doubt), I think of JCO and I get back to work.