Selected introductions from The Sorbonne exhibition of The Creative Process:

Pour moi l’image, ou la métaphore, se traduisent en langue par le rythme. Un livre a sa propre musique, sa propre harmonie, ses propres sons. C’est une unité sonore qui fait émerger des images. Un cliché veut que la littérature anglo saxonne travaille d’abord avec les idées, quand la littérature européenne (ou française) travaille d’abord avec les mots. Evidemment on peut travailler avec les deux. Les anglophones seraient davantage des story tellers et les « autres » davantage des poètes, des travailleurs du mot. Il me semble surtout que le marché du livre favorise la story et, immensément, l’anglais, du coup les deux se combinent pour fabriquer des produits-livres, dénués d’images et de métaphores, perçus comme « ennuyeux », ou « une perte de temps ». C’est dommage. La seule phrase intéressante c’est celle qui résiste un peu, à vrai dire c’est celle qu’on doit relire. La langue n’est pas un matériau transparent, en revanche c’est le seul matériau artistique qui appartienne absolument à tout le monde. L’artiste écrivain doit fourbir son matériau, l’extraire du bien commun, le travailler.  Ecrire et lire prennent beaucoup de temps mais c’est un temps qui se dissout, qui s’oublie, qui devient la vie. Ce n’est pas une encoche dans la vie, c’est une sorte d’augmentation du flux de vie - de la réalité augmentée. 


auteur de Truismes, White, Cleves, et Être ici est une splendeur - Vie de Paula M. Becker (Éditions P.O.L.)

Le problème est que notre culture a commencé par penser l’écriture et les Humanités comme étant périphériques et négociables – un simple et poussiéreux événement de second plan établi à côté du véritable projet, faire de l’argent. Mais le seul moyen qu’ont les gens d’aller dans le sens de la liberté est d’arriver à une certaine compréhension de ce qui les asservit, et cela, en substance est ce que sont les Humanités: un effort contrôlé, s’étendant sur plusieurs générations, afin de comprendre et vaincre ce qui nous asservit. Donc nous marginalisons ce processus à nos risques et périls. Ce processus est (et a toujours été) essentiel aux cultures .


author of Tenth of December / Dix Decembre (Éditions de l’Olivier)


Je pense que vous tombez sur un élément crucial. Les Humanités, la culture, concrètement, ont un moindre coût et en font beaucoup. La culture est ma passion. Aujourd’hui, le livre est menacé par l’écran. Une des choses qu’il nous faut vraiment faire est obtenir de nouveaux lecteurs. J’ai la ferme intuition que l’éducation est la chose la plus essentielle du monde. L’éducation sabote l’ignorance. La curiosité est une vertu sous-estimée alors qu’elle est tellement essentielle. Il vous faut être curieux. Il vous faut être intéressé. La curiosité est quelque chose d’essentiel dans la vie. Cela vous aide à rester jeune. 

I think you've struck upon something crucial. The humanities, culture, in real terms, cost very little and does so much. Culture is my passion. Today, the book is very much menaced by the screen. One of the things we really need to do is get new readers. I feel very strongly that education is the most crucial thing in the world. Education subverts ignorance. Education allows people to think in a more nuanced way. Fundamentally, literature has no frontiers. Curiosity is a very underrated virtue and it’s so crucial. You have to be curious. You have to be interested. Curiosity is an essential thing in life. It keeps you young.





I have two passions: painting and writing. I have always been fascinated by a book’s reason for being. Why did this author decide to sit in a room for a long period of time, shutting out the outside world in order to write this book? Apart from having an original idea which they wanted to realise to its full potential, what events in their real or reading life brought them to the point where being alone putting words on a page became an essential part of their existence?


Of course we all live in our heads and lead rich interior lives, but as we have less time to put these thoughts on paper, when paper itself, as Douglas Kennedy said to me, “is menaced by the screen”, the public service performed by the writer seems more important than ever. They give voice to our private thoughts and contradictions in forms which are artful and dramatic. Neil Gaiman has said “a book is a dream you hold in your hands.” And although I don’t like to ask the same questions of every writer, this is one of the questions which I sometimes ask––What are your dreams like? Hilary Mantel told me, “Dreams are very important to me. I have good recall of them and I record them, and I know I am in a good place to write when my dreams become big and transpersonal. I am very curious about the nature of time and the boundaries of our individual selves.” The Israeli writer and film maker Etgar Keret shared a dream he used to have which involved him being drowned by an imaginary brother who was “King of the Lake” and had no fixed bodily form.



Some of the writers interviewed here are accomplished visual artists themselves. Michel Faber kindly shared drawings for a graphic novel Ship of Fools, which he wrote in the 1980s but never published. Marie Darrieussecq discussed the role of metaphor in her writing and said that painting has given her “an enormous amount of knowledge about the world.” Joyce Carol Oates, who was the first writer to participate in The Creative Process, discussed the intersection between voice and image. “Characters begin as voices, then gain presence by being viewed in others’ eyes. Characters define one another in dramatic contexts. It is often very exciting, when characters meet—out of their encounters, unanticipated stories can spring.”

I am always surprised when I hear the unusual route some writers have taken to arrive at their vocation. I sense they were always writers (even if they did not yet realise it themselves), they just had to engage in these other practical activities before they found their way in: George Saunders was a technical writer and geophysical engineer and Etgar Keret studied the exact sciences. Yiyun Li studied immunology at the University of Iowa, and Hilary Mantel studied law. Marie Darrieussecq found success early in her career and became a psychoanalyst only after she was a published writer. Richard Ford was a sportswriter. Music has been a significant creative outlet for Sam Lipsyte, T.C. Boyle, George Saunders, Darcey Steinke and other writers interviewed here.


Perhaps the more common route for writers is to enter professions like journalism or teaching to earn themselves the time the write. Tobias Wolff, who has just received the National Medal of the Arts and is this year retiring from Stanford after many years teaching, spoke of his time working for The Washington Post during the Watergate scandal. Jay McInerney, who studied writing under Wolff and Raymond Carver at Syracuse University, discussed the attractions of teaching measured against journalism and engaging in the non-academic world. It was also a question broached by Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Díaz, who teaches at MIT where many of his students are not aspiring writers. “I just know that it has only been my privilege and prejudice to be interested in writing for readers who are not writers. I think that it’s always been my bag. I've never felt any interest in writing for people who themselves want to be writers. And I do think that there is a difference.” This may read as harsh to creative writing students, but to my mind it’s just honest. For literature to remain relevant and a true reflection of society it should engage with other mediums and foster discussion outside of the classroom setting.



Writing combines music and image, psychology and character, is a sustained act of empathy and in the hands of masters, like these interviewed for The Creative Process, becomes the most nuanced vehicle for transmission and examination of consciousness I know.


The majority of writers interviewed in this preview are novelists and short-story writers. The 100 authors interviewed will include more storytellers in other mediums and more authors from outside the Anglophone world. The present selection does not include full-time poets, but most have written poetry and their work has a strong poetic impulse. Some have worked in film or have had their works adapted to stage, television, graphic novels, dance and even clay-mation. Most of them would admit they have an obsessive desire to communicate. Where this desire comes from is one of the questions The Creative Process seeks to answer.



Artist and interviewer
Member of the National Advisory Council of the American Writers Museum