“A story is not like a road to follow…it’s more like a house. You go inside and stay there for a while, wandering back and forth and settling where you like and discovering how the room and corridors relate to each other, how the world outside is altered by being viewed from these windows.”
Canadian writer Alice Munro has been awarded 2013’s Nobel Prize in Literature. Often heralded as “one of our greatest contemporary writers of fiction,” Munro is best known for her short stories which are accessible yet complex narratives about the human condition. Her best-known works include “Lives of Girls and Women” (1973), “The Love of a Good Woman” (1998) and “Runaway” (2004). A collection of her work, “Too Much Happiness: Stories,” was published in 2009.
2009 is also the year in which Munro was award the coveted Man Booker International Prize for her lifetime body of work. Additionally, she has been awarded Canada’s literary honor, the Scotiabank Giller Prize, twice. She might have won a third but she removed her name from the contenders in 2009 saying that “she wanted to give younger, less-established authors an opportunity.”
Munro, now 82, has been writing her entire adult life. In an interview with The Paris Review, she tells interviewers Jeanne McCulloch and Mona Simpson how she seized whatever time she had available as a young wife and mother:
When the kids were little, my time was as soon as they left for school. So I worked very hard in those years. My husband and I owned a bookstore, and even when I was working there, I stayed at home until noon. I was supposed to be doing housework, and I would also do my writing then. Later on, when I wasn’t working everyday in the store, I would write until everybody came home for lunch and then after they went back, probably till about two-thirty, and then I would have a quick cup of coffee and start doing the housework, trying to get it all done before late afternoon.
What about before the girls were old enough to go to school?
You wrote when they had naps?
Yes. From one to three in the afternoon. I wrote a lot of stuff that wasn’t any good, but I was fairly productive.
While she has always worked steadily and hard, in the same interview, Munro admits that, some sixty years later, the writing process is often difficult and fraught with frustration:
I have stacks of notebooks that contain this terribly clumsy writing, which is just getting anything down. I often wonder, when I look at these first drafts, if there was any point in doing this at all. I’m the opposite of a writer with a quick gift, you know, someone who gets it piped in. I don’t grasp it very readily at all, the “it” being whatever I’m trying to do. I often get on the wrong track and have to haul myself back.
How do you realize you’re on the wrong track?
I could be writing away one day and think I’ve done very well; I’ve done more pages than I usually do. Then I get up the next morning and realize I don’t want to work on it anymore. When I have a terrible reluctance to go near it, when I would have to push myself to continue, I generally know that something is badly wrong. Often, in about three quarters of what I do, I reach a point somewhere, fairly early on, when I think I’m going to abandon this story. I get myself through a day or two of bad depression, grouching around. And I think of something else I can write. It’s sort of like a love affair: you’re getting out of all the disappointment and misery by going out with some new man you don’t really like at all, but you haven’t noticed that yet. Then, I will suddenly come up with something about the story that I abandoned; I will see how to do it. But that only seems to happen after I’ve said, No, this isn’t going to work, forget it.