Monday, June 19, 2006

One Writer's Process: Norma Fox Mazer

For more than thirty-five years, Norma Fox Mazer's many short stories and novels (After the Rain, Taking Terri Mueller, When She Was Good, Goodnight, Maman, What I Believe, and more) have captured the hearts of readers around the world.

Winner of the Edgar Allen Poe Award, a National Book Award finalist, and twice the recipient of the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award (for books deemed of such exceptional quality that they might sit on the same shelf as Alice in Wonderland), Mazer's work is widely known for its expertly crafted structure and taut, mesmerizing prose.

In addition to her devotion to writing, Mazer's an extraordinary teacher of writing, as well. A member of the faculty of Vermont College's MFA in Writing for Children, she has also taught at the National Book Foundation's Summer Writing Camp to help young writers learn their craft.

Recently, she was kind enough to share these thoughts on writing:

Wordswimmer: If writing is like swimming, how do you get into the water each day?

NFM: To stay with the metaphor (which, inevitably, will break down at some point), if the water is cold... if I'm in a tough spot, for example... I'll tend to tread water for a while, go back over yesterday's work and approach the new work that way. Even if the water is temperate, I might do that in order to pull myself back into the there (that is, the world I'm creating).

Wordswimmer: What keeps you afloat... for short work? For longer work?

NFM: Love of the doing... of writing, of creating. Even when it's difficult and I hate it, I love it.

Wordswimmer: How do you keep swimming through dry spells?

NFM: I don't have dry spells. I learned long ago that only fear would stop me. For instance, fear of the dry spell, fear of the work, fear of not being able to do it, not being up to it, not being good enough, and so on. And while I have all these fears to some degree still after so many years of writing (especially the fear of not being a good enough writer), I know that they are only fears. I know that they disappear when I begin work. I know that the key to writing is to write... and that everything can be revised (thank the goddess!) ...and revised and revised and revised. Revision is transformation. My ugly frog of a piece of writing can be transformed into the beautiful--ok, good looking--prince, if I keep at it long enough.

Wordswimmer: What's the hardest part of swimming?

NFM: No metaphor here. The hardest part of writing, I believe, is thinking. Thinking through the story, then following through on strengthening the structure. Thinking hard enough and truthfully enough to know where you've fallen into a sinkhole (we're in the water again) and where you're not stroking vigorously enough and where you need to float.

Wordswimmer: How do you overcome obstacles, problems, when swimming alone?

NFM: Oh, never swim entirely alone, please! Always have someone on the shore. Someone you can call out to. Actually, sometimes all you need is another person to listen to your problems. At least, I find that talking about a problem, I often find the solution without the other person having to say much more than "Uh huh" to register interest. If another person isn't handy, then writing about the problem is effective. But, sometimes, there's nothing to do but keep mulling over a problem until you understand what you need to do.

Wordswimmer: What's the part of swimming that you love the most?

NFM: Being in the water. Swimming. Writing. Doing it. That's what it's all about... the doing of it. Everything else is ancillary.

For more information about Norma Fox Mazer, check out these resources:

A brief biography at

An interview about her most recent book, (What I Believe, Harcourt, 2005) at

Another interview at:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's great to have a writer like Norma visit with us and share her thoughts on writing. The one thing I do which is like one of her strategies is that, when I need to get into that cold water again each morning, I almost always have to go over yesterday's work to get back up to temperature again. Nice to hear a writer like Norma sometimes uses the same approach.