Marya Hornbacher Q&A

June 12, 2019
On the art of writing glorious prose.

“I used to struggle with the blank page. How do you start? Then somewhere along the way I realized that the first line will arrive. Sometimes you have to start with the second line and realize, this is not how it starts, and just start anyway.”

Do you find writing therapeutic?

It may be helpful to some people to think of it as therapeutic, but I don’t think of it that way. I do feel like I have things I want to say and things I want examine. But I don’t paint myself all over the page, or feel the need to.

Do you believe you get better as a writer as you get older?

Absolutely. For two reasons. You have more practice. Hopefully you’re practicing every day. You’re practicing, practicing, practicing. And you’re also gaining experience, not so you can write about it, so you can have it. Have it as your back story. Have it as your framework in which to look at the subject you happen to have in front of you. Until you have that framework, you’re really just shooting from the hip.

How has your writing process changed through the years?

I’m much more prone to trust my instincts now than twenty years ago.

Does it ever frustrate you to not get to all your ideas?

Not really. I can put work away for another time. I was working on a novel that I will finish, but I realized I wasn’t old enough to write it. I didn’t have the research capacity for it. It’s a novel about the second Russian Revolution. I got maybe 200 pages in and thought, OK, I’m putting it in a drawer until I know how to write it. The one great thing I had about getting an early start on my writing career was I had a huge amount of time to experiment, to write in different genres. The thing of it is, I have a book of poetry, I have a book of short stories. There’s all manner of projects. I’m never bored. At the same time, one needs to have, if not a day job, some other major project, that  gives you that framework for how you see writing, because writing gets very isolating. It’s like writing without reading. How can you do that? What do you write? You’re not learning. If you’re not learning, you’re writing the same thing over and over, and that’s just a waste of everyone’s time.

What is your writing life like?

I write for at least an hour on the days that I’m not writing and for many hours on the days that I’m writing. I’ll write anywhere from one hour on a non-writing day, to 12 hours on a writing day, to 14 hours if I want to make myself crazy.

Do you ever get blocked?

I used to struggle with the blank page. How do you start? Then somewhere along the way I realized that the first line will arrive. Sometimes you have to start with the second line and realize, this is not how it starts, and just start anyway. I’m always getting the first line at inconvenient moments. Sometimes I’m in the shower, sometimes I’m in the middle of a conversation … sometimes I’m in the middle of a conversation, and I’m like, Hold that thought, and I’ll have to write down that first line. But the thing that has always made me struggle is the beginnings, just because they’re not there yet. So sometimes I start with the ending.