Lois Lowry on Her Writing Process and Literary Influences

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Aug. 26 2014 7:38 AM

Lois Lowry on Her Writing Process and Literary Influences

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Author Lois Lowry at Comic-Con on July 24, 2014, in San Diego.

Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for the Weinstein Company

These questions originally appeared on Quora.

Answer by Lois Lowry, author, The Giver:

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Q: What is the process that a writer goes through while writing a novel?

A: I sit alone in a room every day and do my work, and that’s what I love doing. I enter the lives of these characters that I know are fictional and have appeared in my imagination. But they become so real to me that when I finish a manuscript, it's like leaving behind a family that you’ve been close to, and I love that process.

Part of what I love about writing (as compared to movie-making) is I get to write the screenplay, of course. I write the dialogue, I design the set, I design the costumes, I do the casting, and I choose the camera angles. I do it all, all by myself. So, it was interesting to get involved with the movie-making and see how it becomes a collaborative act. It’s important how all those people work together with those things, but I confess I love having the control myself. I like being in charge of my own imagination. But that’s what I do—I sit there, all day, day after day, and I never get tired of it.

Part of the process of course, is constant revision. In the old days, when I began writing books, I worked on a typewriter with carbon paper. You took out a page, rolled in the next page, and that was all you had. That was your only copy. There was no Xerox machine. It was very tedious, and then somebody invented computers. That was life-changing for me because it meant that I could have it in a computer and print out five copies or 100 copies if I wanted to, and I could make revisions easily.

With the typed manuscript, if I wanted to revise three paragraphs on Page 83, it meant I’d have to go back. I’d have to reformat the whole thing, go back, and retype all these pages. So I didn’t do as much revising as I often should have.

With the computer, it became so easy and so exhilarating to revise that I found it hard to quit. It is always very difficult to type the end, because you keep thinking you can go back, change this and that. You have to say goodbye. You have to know when to let it go, and that’s hard.

Q: Which books have you read that influenced you deeply?

A: I can remember the first book that affected me as a child. It was a book my mother read to me when I was 8 years old. It was published as an adult book, but now I think it’s found its way to young-adult sections of bookstores. It was called The Yearling.

I was a voracious reader at 8, and I’d been reading since I was 3 (I had read everything that was there for me to read), but this was the first book that portrayed a child (a boy my age) in a real-life situation where things are tragic and painful. I remember my mother cried when she read one chapter. I’d never seen my mother cry before, and it was the first time that I realized (though I couldn’t have articulated it then) that a book had that power, that literature had that power to affect you emotionally.

I had been reading books like Mary Poppins and The Secret Garden, and suddenly here was this devastating book. My mother and I were weeping for words on a page together, and an author had made us do that. Plus, our particular copy of that book had illustrations by N.C. Wyeth that were just beautiful, so it was the combination. That was the book that I remember most.

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