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Téa Obreht on Abandoning a 600-Page Novel

First Draft: A Dialogue of Writing is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with fiction, nonfiction, essay writers, and poets, highlighting the voices of writers as they discuss their work, their craft, and the literary arts. Hosted by Mitzi Rapkin, First Draft celebrates creative writing and the individuals who are dedicated to bringing their carefully chosen words to print as well as the impact writers have on the world we live in.

This week on First Draft, Téa Obreht joins Mitzi to discuss her novel Inland, out now from Random House.

From the episode:

Mitzi Rapkin: You said when you had finished another novel of the West it didn’t address what you wanted to address. What did you want to address? Did you know that in the beginning, or did it sort of come out through and what happened here is it didn’t come out in the writing?

Téa Obreht: It’s exactly that. I never know what it is that I want to address in the beginning. You’re just drawn into a story for reasons that hopefully become clear as the writing process advances. In the case of that particular Western, I got to the end and they simply weren’t clear to me still.

That doesn’t necessarily doom a work forever. I go back and look at it now and the distance has enabled me to see more clearly some of the things about it I wasn’t able to see at the time, but I think it’s a singular curse of writing that you can get to the end … of 600 pages and realize that for the moment you really have nothing to show for it because it wasn’t the right thing. It doesn’t mean that you haven’t grown and developed in certain ways. You’ve checked out certain routes on the map and they didn’t lead to where you thought but that’s progress in of itself.

For practical purposes no one is going to see those 600 pages, they’re not going to lead to a second book, and it’s very dispiriting, but by the time I finished the first draft of Inland I knew some of the things it was about and I knew what had drawn me in. If the writing process doesn’t teach you those things about the project, it’s really difficult to continue into another draft because without knowing them I don’t understand what it is I’m actually trying to draw out, what you’re turning the volume up on in the work and how to connect the storylines.

To listen to the rest of the episode, as well as the whole archive of First Draft, subscribe and listen on iTunes or wherever else you find your favorite podcasts.

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Téa Obreht is the author of The Tiger’s Wife, a finalist for the National Book Award. She was born in Belgrade, in the former Yugoslavia, in 1985 and has lived in the United States since the age of twelve. She currently lives in New York City and teaches at Hunter College.

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