‘Suddenly I Knew Why I Was Writing a Story at Any Particular Moment’

To learn the craft, I’d just written random stories, whatever came into my head, attempting to storify any thought as practice for figuring out what works and what doesn’t. But just writing whatever wasn’t really being a writer. A writer, it seemed to me at the time, was someone with a creative or intellectual project that lasted not the length of a story but over years of writing many different things.

I asked myself what I was fascinated by, scared of, drawn to, repelled by, in love with. What did I like thinking about and what could I never find an end to musing over? For me, then, it was the natural world, any angle of it. I opened this umbrella and began to write stories that fit under it. And suddenly I knew why I was writing a story at any particular moment. Even if it was a mysterious or troublesome one, I knew I was pursuing something with it. The thing is, I’m not sure these pursuits are ever very obvious to anyone but me. They get obscured. Or maybe they are really just the jumping-off points that send me back to the big questions we all think about, the stuff too big to approach head on. Like, I tell myself I’m exploring the wilderness, but really I’m trying to figure out grief. But the concept of the ongoing ‘project’ forces me to remember that writing is active and not just a product.

— In Granta, Sam Lipsyte and Diane Cook correspond with one another about the craft of writing stories. The above is from Cook. Before working on her own stories, Cook was a producer for This American Life, which taught her how to put together stories in a very specific way.

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Photo: Julie Jordan Scott