Sheila Heti on Writing Outside of the Academy

From Page Turner:

“SH: Well, if you’re working on a book, the book poses a bunch of questions. Maybe it’s (in the case of my second book, Ticknor) “What were the early birth control pioneers like?” or “What was Florence Nightingale all about?” Most of your curiosities don’t even make it into the book, but you think they will. Moments come where you have to find out about something or you can’t go on. So you start reading in that area (Havelock Ellis, Marie Stopes) and you take in the stuff at a really deep level because your need to know it is at once mysterious (why is Marie Stopes so important to you right now?) and really practical (it might help you finish a scene). I guess the main difference is that you are led down reading paths as you go, rather than coming up with a reading list at the start.

And it’s always changing. Then, in terms of how your life is organized around a book, it’s a question of what kind of person you have to be in order to write that book. Do you need to be married, single, traveling, asking questions of other people, alone in your room? What kind of person does the book demand it be written by? You have to become that person.

What else do think you could get out of school that you can’t get out of your life now? When we last spoke, you mentioned friendships and mentoring. I like what Eileen Myles said about mentoring—that she prefers “parallel” to “hierarchical” mentoring; that is, learning from one’s friends and peers, rather than from more successful, established people. I agree.”

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