Open Mic Writing Questions

writing questions marisha pessl
“There is something about pen on paper that gives the work a richness and a saturation that I've found going straight to Microsoft Word doesn't create.”

Recently I received some great questions from readers about everything from motherhood to editing to inspiration. It’s been so insightful to see what readers and writers are currently thinking about (stewing over). I answered them – the ones I didn’t get to in my chat – here.

“Your work is amazing. The novels are so full of detail they are really worlds of their own. How much research do you need to do to make them so?” – Anna

Thank you. The way I work is a combination of writing in Moleskine notebooks and typing on the computer. I think the texture that you’re talking about is created by the Moleskine notebook part, putting ink on paper. This is the part of writing that feels like I’m Dian Fossey compiling little observations and sketches about the jungle I’m living inside in order to better understand it. There is something about pen on paper that gives the work a richness and a saturation that I’ve found going straight to Microsoft Word doesn’t create.

“LOVED Special Topics and Night Film! Is there any talk of a possible film?” – Amy

Thank you. Night Film is in development at 20th Century Fox and I own the rights to Special Topics at the moment. I’ll give further updates as I have them.

“I’d love to hear about your writing process. How many hours do you spend behind your desk actually writing, as opposed to being distracted by emails, etc. What’s your schedule like?” – Iris

Check out #6 of my writing hacks from last week, as I blow off all emails until around 4 pm. I typically write from around 9 am to 3 to 4 (though I get up in between, stretch, wander my office, talk to myself, etc.) It’s good to move. I like to do yoga after a long stretch of writing.

“When is your next book coming out? Can you give us a sneak preview of what it’s going to be about?” – Jennifer

Can’t wait to answer this question. I’ll have news on this front soon.

“Did you do the illustrations in Special Topics? Did it affect the writing?” – Melissa

I did. I’ve always drawn and painted as a diversion, a way to turn the chatter of the mind off. I did the illustrations for Special Topics when I was finished with the book. Now they’re framed and hanging by my front door.

“How do you handle being disciplined with writing despite mood fluctuations: shitty days, depression, stress, exhaustion?” – Maggie

I embrace these moments. See #7.

“Is there going to be a movie of Night Film?” – Charlie

See my answer to Amy’s question above.

“What books are you reading at the moment? If you have time!!” – Ashley

I’m currently reading Pillars of the Earth (per my husband’s recommendation). I’m about to start Jami Attenberg’s All Grown Up (out this coming March) and I’m also reading a Young Adult novel called Stalking Jack the Ripper, which is a very cool concept, a young woman in Victorian times tries to track down the killer.

“Do you have any favorite contemporary (or older) writers whose work you turn to for inspiration?” – Jack

Absolutely. To name just a few: Dickens, Shakespeare, Anthony Doerr, Nora Ephron, John Green, Agatha Christie, Lewis Caroll, Truman Capote, Patricia Highsmith, Junot Diaz, Daphne Du Maurier, Hanya Hanagihara.

“Other than empathy, how has motherhood impacted your writing?” – Rebecca

It’s made me more disciplined. I push harder to get things done in a shorter period of time. A little more about this in Cindy’s question below.

“How do you feel about writing a young adult novel? How different is it?” – Ashley

It’s not as different as one would imagine. I find children and teenagers to be so intuitive and courageous and able to handle as much of life as adults (if not more). I’ll be talking more about this.

“Is editing a painful process for you, or a simple one?” – Mary Jo

More joyful than painful. Still hugely challenging. See #8 in my writing hacks.

Night Film was brilliant and terrifying – will you ever go back to that dark, noir-ish world?” – Martin

I’m working on two other projects at the moment, but I’ll never say never.

writing questions marisha pessl

“You write long, full, deep novels that require a lot of craft and confidence. Did you work your way up to writing novels by writing short stories first, or have novels always been the form for you?” – Nick

Thank you. I always gravitated toward writing long books and not short stories, because that’s what I like to read. I like big sprawling (drooling) epics. I think crafting a brilliant short story is an entirely different journey and I have a lot of awe for Alice Munroe and Cheever and Carver, all of whom perfected the form and make you wonder, How did they do that?

“Do you feel that motherhood will change your writing style?” – Cindy

It’s made me less of a wimp. I realize now if I could handle childbirth, I can certainly handle the corner I wrote myself into in Chapter 26.

“How involved are your outlines?” – Martin

They are loose, day to day road maps for my cross country trip, which I have no problem punting for a period of time. Though I always return to them in the end.

“Love your books, are you planning a new one soon? Can’t wait.” – Martina

Yes. More on this soon.

“I am a huge fan of your work, especially Special Topics. It’s one of my favorite books of all time! My question is – what tools do you use in order to write, such as apps or habits? Do you use Scrivener or Word? How do you keep characters/plots/backstories straight? With apps or handwritten? I wonder because your books are so carefully layered. How do you keep all of the clues sprinkled through?” – Kimberly

Thank you. As I wrote above my best tools for creation are my Moleskine notebooks and a black ink pen. The notebooks are my Bibles, they have all of the characters’ backstories, and secrets, and rules of the world I’m writing about. When I start typing I use Word. The sprinkling of clues is crafted in the editing process, pulling out a clue just enough so that it reads, but isn’t obvious. It requires a cat burglar’s touch.