Ayize Jama-Everett interviews Pulitzer Prize finalist and Booker Prize-shortlisted author Percival Everett on what training horses has taught him about writing novels, his rules for writing, and the work schedule that’s helped him produce everything from novels and poetry collections to short stories and paintings over his 40-year artistic career.
What does training horses teach you about writing a novel?
Patience. Not to get stressed out. It never pays to get excited around a half-ton animal. It’s not going to calm the animal down, and it’s not going to do you any good. With novels, it is the same thing. Why get stressed about it? And even after you publish it. What if nobody likes it? What are you going to do? Maybe somebody will enjoy the next one.
Are there any rules that you follow in terms of writing? A road map for success or knowing that the project is going where you want it to go?
No, not really. I try to be honest in terms of my vision. I never think about readers — not to say I don’t want to be read. But there’s no profit in imagining some ideal reader when everyone is different. So, I’m the reader I’m trying to appeal to. Which, sadly, explains my book sales. [Laughs.]
What’s the writing routine, the schedule?
I work all the time but only sometimes. It comes from ranching and training horses. I wake up, feed, fix stuff, write for about 20 minutes, train an animal, fix stuff, and write for 20 minutes. Constitutionally, I’m lucky, because when I sit down, I’m immediately working. I don’t have to clear the deck, and I don’t go online, surf the web, or anything like that. I don’t sleep a lot.