Published: March 24th, 2015
Richard Ford is an American author whose works include The Sportswriter, Independence Day, and The Lay of the Land. He has taught at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, the University of Mississippi, and the Columbia University School for the Arts. Ford's accolades include the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the PEN/Faulkner Award, and the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction to name a few.
Howl: What is your writing process like?
Ford: I'm not sure I know what you mean by my "writing process." That could refer to anything from whether I write with a pencil, a pen, or on a word processor (for me, the second of the 3), to where I write (in an old boat house on the coast of Maine - summer and winter); to when I write – mornings and afternoons, but not after dark, when I'm too tired. For both novels and stories I keep a constantly-going notebook into which I record whatever interests me, without order. Then when I set about to write, I decide whether it'll be a novel or a story or a novella, and I start going through my many, many notebooks looking for things to put into the story. I'm basically fitting together materials that have often never been together before and trying to make logic out of them, and turn that logic into a narrative.
Howl: How do you edit your work?
Ford: I just read and read and read and read and read what I've written over again, until I can't think of more to do, and until I've gotten into the story all the important material I've been hoarding.
Howl: Do you get writer's block and if so, how do you get over it?
Ford: I've never experienced "writer's block." I assume I'm not smart enough, or neurotic enough.
Howl: What advice do you have for budding writers?
Ford: My best advice is try to talk yourself out of being a writer. Look for something more useful to the world. If you're a writer, you're probably going to fail much more than succeed; you're not going to make much money; you're going to be alone way too much; you're going to develop the bad habits those who're alone too much develop - smoking, excessive drinking, poor physical conditioning; you're going to have hard times being a parent and a spouse. Not that being a writer is hard. It's actually quite easy – easier than most other vocations. It's just injury-prone.
Howl: What books would you recommend students read that might spark or further delve them into literature?
Ford: Read great literature – whatever you think that is, and that makes you want to write once you put the book down.
Howl: You didn't start out wanting to be a writer, so what made writing your creative medium of choice?
Ford: Failure at the Marine Corps, and at being a lawyer. I just started writing at age 23 because it seemed not very hard, and because I loved literature, and I hadn't yet failed at it, and my wife thought it was a good idea.
Howl: What do you look for in a good book?
Ford: I look for fresh intelligence – rather than nifty plots or heroic characters or exotic settings (though these are all nice, too). I want a book to increase my storage of knowledge, to enhance my awareness of the world, to bring me close to the world, to notice more, to value the world more – in case I'd overlooked parts of it.
Howl: Do you consciously write differently whether it be fiction or non-fiction or do you find that your writing and editing styles remain fairly consistent?
Ford: I think writing's writing - fiction or non-fiction. One's style alters with every subject. So there's no "Richard Ford" voice – there's just Richard Ford writing in differing voices depending on the subject matter, and on what kind of mood I'm in, and what my desired effect is. Getting all balled up with one's voice is a waste of time. We all have lots of voices to write out of.
Howl: Do you get a lot of your inspiration from real life such as your love of sports writing from being around your grandfather who was a prize fighter?
Ford: I'm a bit of a sponge to experience. I write things down – things that I see, and hear, and dream up, and fantasize. As I said, I force into relations with other collected things to make new shapes, new dictions, new intellectual formulations. I'm always trying to write something smart.
Howl: What is in the future for Richard Ford?
Ford: I'm 71. That doesn't feel old; and my wife tells me I don't look or act very old – actually quite childish sometimes. I'm not sure about the future for myself; writing less, I hope. Working through a few special projects I have on the back burner – a memoir of my father. I think it's better if I tell myself to quit than that the world tells me.