Create out loud
with Jennifer Louden
In this episode:
- New York Times bestselling author, essayist, and travel writer Maggie Shipstead shares a behind the scenes look at her career and creative process.
- How to make choices in our creative work
- Enjoying the experience of creating
- What tools and software Maggie uses to write
- The “money” conversation
- The places Maggie loves to write
- How Maggie’s travels have inspired her work
Maggie Shipstead is a New York Times bestselling author of three novels — Seating Arrangements, Astonish Me, and Great Circle (her newest novel that is on many best-of lists for 2021) and her work has won a laundry list of awards. She’s also written essays and travel articles like her piece for Modern Love. And like all of us, Maggie has to begin again, face the blank page, and watch projects die.
Great Circle, Maggie’s newest novel, follows pilot Marian Graves who will take to the sky and circumnavigate the globe at all costs – and isn’t that so much like the creative process?
I began by asking Maggie about the ideas in her novels. I’m always interested in how authors decide which topics to revisit again and when it’s time to move on.
“I think it’s been different for each of my novels. And in my short stories, as well. They’re always about different things. But I think that in itself is something I’m always sort of chasing. And something that keeps me interested in my work is just, you know, the novelty and the opportunity to deep dive into different subcultures or different worlds.”
Sometimes I noticed about Astonish Me and Great Circle was a pull toward epic desire at all cost, but with an itch of mystery and expansiveness. She explores her characters and their pursuits deeply in a way that pulls you in. So I wondered about her approach to writing about craft.
“I think that a novel is comprised of millions, maybe billions of choices, just tiny, tiny decisions. What you include and what you exclude, as far as details is, of course, a sort of ongoing part of that.“
Her choices play out powerfully on the page, so of course I asked her about that. Writers know that making choices in our writing can become paralyzing, so I was curious to know if it’s become easier for her over time.
“I remember early on a few days where I’d be in bed in the middle of the afternoon…’First person or third person? Past tense or present tense?’ These are fundamental technical choices that have a huge ripple effect. And if I changed my mind, I had to go back. And it’s not an easy thing to change. So I did feel really anxious about some of that…it’s an ongoing challenge to be okay with committing to something and then having to go back and fix it.”
She told me that she doesn’t plan or start with an outline. The book unfolds as she writes, and she gives herself space to explore. In Great Circle the sprawl itself became part of the structure of the book. Though to the reader it might seem intentional, it all connects in the end.
When we discussed her career, Maggie said something really fascinating, which is that she didn’t have an identity as a writer starting out, so she didn’t have a set of expectations before her early success. You won’t want to miss what she shares here.
Next, we got into the nitty gritty of her writing practice — where and when she feels most creative and productive, how it’s evolved over time, the tools she uses, and more — all of the things we writers are curious about when it comes to how other writers do it.
We also talked about how her travels have inspired her work, the ways events going on in the world shape our choices, and the importance of having the right project at the right time. And of course I asked her the money question, which is always a big factor in every creative career.
This and so much more.
Join me as we learn how Maggie Shipstead creates out loud.
Get a copy of Maggie’s books:
Visit jenniferlouden.com/podcastkit to get instant access to a collection of audios that will
- help you with some of the most common struggles we creatives have to manage including fear of choosing,
- falling into compare and despair, managing the inner critic (s),
- and feeling too exposed and vulnerable when you put yourself or your work into the world.
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