Thoughts from an Introverted Author: Q&A with Bethany Ball

Quiet Revolution is excited to help spread the word about Bethany Ball’s new book: What to Do About the Solomons. Susan Cain, Quiet Revolution’s co-founder, conducted an interview with Bethany to discuss the process of writing the novel. Susan and Bethany covered a variety of topics that we hope resonate with the QuietRev community, including what it means to be an introverted writer, her love of fiction, and on many other things.

What’s your writing process like—do you prefer a solo space or to work more publicly?

At this point, as I finish a draft of my second novel, I do prefer to work alone. I need to know I won’t be interrupted by people. I have a study in my house where I like to work, but don’t get much done if anyone is home, sadly. I like to work in cafes but feel guilty if I stay more than an hour or so. If I’m trying to generate new material, it’s best for me to go away—if possible—for two or three days where I know I’ll have an extended block of time to work. This way I can gather up some momentum and sustain it when I get home. This summer I had one month with only one kid—the second was in sleep away camp—and ten days alone in the house while my husband and son were traveling. I got almost nothing done. There was just too much time. I like the pressure of day-to-day life. I also love to write in the city, in hotel lobbies, and in the fall I’m going to try working at the shared workspace, The Wing. I like the idea of working in a lovely space with a bunch of women. Sometimes it’s better to have only an hour or so to work a day. No matter what else I accomplish during that day, if I’ve written, I’m pleased with myself.

I just saw that Maggie Smith, a poet whom I’m a big fan of, tweeted that she gets a lot of writing done on airplanes. Sometimes I’ll have my lap top open while waiting for pasta water to boil. There comes a point where if you have a job or children, you can’t be too precious about time, nor can you wait for inspiration. I think if I went on an actual writing retreat, I would probably socialize too much and not get any work done. I would just be so happy to be around other writers, which is a rare thing in my life!

Do you like to share what you’ve written along the way?

I like to share while I’m writing, but my writing friends/great readers are busy. When I first started out, I took continuing education classes in writing and there I found a writing group. Those two things were utterly essential, when I was just starting out. Later I understood that I had internalized all the voices of all the good, wise, and generous people who had read and commented on my work in the past. This was pretty liberating. I still lose my way though, which is why I think a writing group is in my near future.

Although you write fiction, your style is intensely personal. Do you struggle with a simultaneous wish to express yourself, and to keep your privacy?

I do think fiction is a disguise. I create characters, and I am completely free to write anything I like—so long as it’s believable. It can be liberating, and part of me enjoys people wondering what might have really happened, or if a character is based on my life experiences. Nonfiction is where I really struggle. There is something about writing things that are presented as true that does not work for me. That is what feels like an invasion of privacy. I love my characters, deeply. I care for them and I try not to judge them, or mock them. I’m always trying to follow a thread of what feels true. There must always be an emotional truth. I’ve written non-fiction that did not pass my own personal lie detector test. It just didn’t feel true. Even if the events had really happened to me.

How, as an introvert, did you navigate the extremely public process of publishing?

 I just recently read a bit of a speech from Lan Samantha Chang that she gave for One Story’s Debutante ball, reprinted in Literary Hub. She said,

“…publishing is only the beginning of the journey of learning to navigate the world as a public writer, which is the opposite of making art, and it requires learning to protect the inner self from which the art emerged in the first place.”

I hadn’t really even realized I was an introvert until I’d read Quiet. I learned that after any public event, I needed a few days to recover. It was almost like a little flu or hangover. I had enjoyed the event. I love meeting readers and writers—by far one of the best parts of publishing this book—but I have come to understand the necessity of down time, and of recharging one’s batteries.

Introverts everywhere thank you, Susan!