Bobbie Ann Mason‘s literary honors including the PEN/Hemingway Award, the O Henry Prize, the Pushcart Prize, and the Arts and Letters Award for Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her memoir Clear Springs: A Family Story, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Her most recent book is Patchwork: A Bobbie Ann Mason Reader, which includes this classic 2paragraphs piece as its final word.
2paragraphs: What do you like least about writing?
Bobbie Ann Mason: In a way, what I like least is the thing that is best–that state of mind when your Muse kicks you off a cliff and you go flying without any thought given to gravity. You just go. I often have an airplane image in my mind, taking off or landing. Somehow in that state, the energy is directed and you get into the story and you don’t have to stop until you run out of gas.
That is the best feeling, when it happens. But the worst thing about it, the worst thing about writing, for me, is how that exalted Muse-lifted state in its defeat of time–its timelessness–robs me of time because I don’t remember it that well. I recognize that I did it, but where did the time go? Suddenly it is six o’clock. Where was I? Writing a novel is like that for big chunks of your life, not just an afternoon. Someone asked me how long I spent writing the novel Feather Crowns. I thought for a moment and said three years. The next day I had to correct my memory; maybe it was four years. For me the first year of writing a novel is the agony of the blank page, the all-too-obvious presence of time–empty time when I am sitting there fooling around, wishing I could get to the jumping-off place. And then come four or five years (who knows?) of disappearing into the novel. Eventually, seeing the finished book, I know I did it somehow, but I don’t remember it. I know I was in there, and it was intense, and I recognize the complex workings of it. But the time disappeared–so quickly. I always hesitate before launching into another novel. It had better be worth it or I won’t go near it. It has to steal me, kidnap me.