New York-based author Sarah Stodola, an old friend of the Dig editors from our wild days in Gotham, spent the last few years researching, studying, obsessing over the peculiar writing habits of artists ranging from Didion to Hemingway, Rushdie to Morrison, Kafka to Wallace. Naturally, we had to ask a couple of questions about how she put her own project together …
DB: The biggest, most obvious question: What was YOUR process like writing this book? How long? Where? Did you transcribe notes by hand, like a friggin’ weirdo? Did you use a typewriter?
SS: Hysterical and panic-driven? It turns out that I’m super-regimented in the face of a serious deadline like this one, even though the hysteria and panic linger close to the surface.
I gave myself three weeks to finish the draft of each chapter, a framework that I more or less succeeded in sticking to. I always took my notes by hand during the research phase, but the writing itself always happened on the computer. Then I had to print things out again in order to edit them with a blue pen.
During the roughly year and a half I spent writing Process, I worked mostly at home, but sometimes at a restaurant near the apartment that lacked wifi. I was so much better in the mornings, and so much worse after four or so hours of continuous work.
SS: I wouldn’t have included any authors that I don’t have at least a grudging respect for. That said, my favorite authors to write about were those I related to in my own writing life, or those that surprised me in some way: Zadie Smith, who never knows where she’s headed when she starts a project; Richard Price, who is so frank—not to mention hilarious—in discussing his struggles with procrastination; Virginia Woolf, who despite her reputation was a fun-loving person.
David Foster Wallace was the most difficult chapter for me, I think because one, he’s so fascinating a figure that the research never felt finished, and two, he’s an easy guy to overanalyze.
I would love to have included Jonathan Franzen, because his beef with current technologies is one that a lot of writers and readers respond strongly to. But there are so many parallels between DFW and Franzen, I ultimately felt it made sense to include only one of them.
DB: Where did the majority of your research come from? Written interviews? Recorded ones?
SS: I spent a lot of time in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library, where the archives of writers like Woolf, Philip Roth, and Kerouac are housed. I conducted original interviews where possible. I read a lifetime’s worth of biographies. And then, luckily, we live in an age in which oceans of interviews are at our fingertips, on video, radio, podcast, and in print. So, you know, YouTube. Hours and hours spent in the dark corners of YouTube.
DB: What is the absolute gem of all gems that you included that fans of a certain writer may not have previously known (though I’m sure they’ll all pretend that they already knew)?
SS: Jack Kerouac never learned to drive.
DB: How interested are you in the writing lives of average people, writers in your neighborhood, stuff like that? Are you known to knock around Brooklyn coffee shops asking people for their secret methods?
SS: If I’m in a Brooklyn coffee shop, it’s as a hermit-in-public. But I love the conversations I’ve had with non-famous writers about their processes as a result of writing this book. A friend of mine recently divulged that she prints out everything she writes three times, in three different fonts, because she notices things in Garamond that for whatever reason didn’t pop out in Arial. I love that. It had never occurred to me to use fonts as an editing tool, but now I think I’ll try it.