Elizabeth Strout is an American writer, currently most famous for her novel Olive Kitteridge about a woman in Maine and her friends and family. Olive Kitteridge earned Strout the Pulitzer Prize. Her other book, Amy and Isabelle, was nominated for the 2000 PEN/Faulkner Award and was made into a TV movie. Her latest book, The Burgess Boys, was published earlier this year.
Howl: When writing a book, what is your inspiration?
Strout: It is hard to say what my inspiration is – it differs. Perhaps something I overhear, perhaps some memory from long ago, or a scene I see while driving past in the car. Something, usually an image, stays with me. Then I have to open it up.
Howl: How did it feel winning a Pulitzer Prize for your writing?
Strout: It felt wonderful winning the Pulitzer Prize. I don’t feel that it has ever somehow become a personal part of my identity; it stays on the outside of me. But it’s lovely, I was, and am, very pleased by it.
Howl: How would you describe your style of writing?
Strout: I would describe my style of writing as realistic. But I am not good at describing styles of writing, I never trained in it, so honestly I’m not the best person to ask.
Howl: What usually stands out in the process of getting a book published?
Strout: What stands out in the process of getting a book published is the galling sense of exposure. After so many hours, years, alone, it feels like someone has taken off your skin.
Howl: As an author, how would you describe the change in your writing over the years?
Strout: I think the change in my writing over the years is that is has simply matured. I know more, I have experienced more, and there’s no shortcut I think to any of that. So my subjects are larger, can go deeper.
Howl: What is your writing and editing process like?
Strout: I write a lot, and I write a lot of bad stuff, so the writing process and the editing process for me are not very separate. I edit and rewrite constantly as I go along. In the end I have to do a to-the-bone cut of the entire manuscript, but I have been doing that steadily, so it is almost there for me.
Howl: Other than writing, do you have any other hobbies?
Strout: Well, writing isn’t a hobby for me. It’s my job, my vocation. That’s important to understand. Many people think that writing is something done on the side, something extra, and that is not what it is. It is what I devote myself to. There are many things I do, such as hang out with family and friends, or travel, that I enjoy, but I am not really a hobby person.
Howl: What are your favorite and least favorite parts of writing?
Strout: My favorite part of writing is when it suddenly seems to go well. This doesn’t happen that often, but when it does there is nothing like it. My least favorite part is when it doesn’t go well, when I cannot find the proper voice, the proper angle – that is very hard. And very common.
Howl: Do you have any advice for budding writers?
Strout: My advice for budding writers is: read constantly, the good books, not the shallow books. Read and read and read. And write and write and write. You will get better. Understand that you need to like your own company because you will be alone a lot.