Greg Fields is the author of Arc of the Comet and Through the Waters and the Wild (available January 15). Greg talks a lot about how he draws insiration from other writers. I do the same, though it’s not always writers. I am often inspired by great works (be they movies, books, anything written by someone). When I experience something great, I immediately want to create something of my own.
Who are you?
Greg Fields, Writer and editor, from Manassas, Virginia.
What do you write?
Since I was young, I’ve been in love with great writing. Throughout my life, I’ve gravitated to the great works. My own writing has tried to emulate the rhythms, lyricism, and intensity of the best writers of literary fiction.
While I faced the necessity of earning a living, my writing was a sidebar, something to be pursued when I had both the time and the benefit of clear thought. Through it all, I managed to craft a manuscript that I thought had some merit. In the middle stages of the draft, I had the immense good fortune to meet Pat Conroy, who saw something in that manuscript that I did not have the courage to see myself. He encouraged its completion, and offered some insights along the way. The book, my first novel, Arc of the Comet, was published less than a year after his death. It would not exist except for his influence.
Now I try to absorb the works of writers who focus on the complexities and nuances of a shared human experience — the great Irish novelist Niall Williams, who has become something of a friend, Matthew Thomas, John Banville, and so on. Each of these, and so many more, constantly instruct me how to unite critical ideas to the music of the language. Their writing is accessible, important and lasting, and I seek to follow where that writing leads.
Most of my work, in both the first novel, the second novel Through the Waters and the Wild, and my third novel in development deals with the central questions I believe we all must address — Where shall I go now? What shall I do? It’s the asking of these questions that keeps us alive, even there are no definitive answers. We remain works in progress, or so we should be, and it’s our continuing evolution that inspires what I write.
And I confess I love what I do. More so, I’m humbled by it. I believe the opportunity to do what I do carries the responsibility to take it seriously, to recognize the role of letters in a complex and pluralistic society, and to be an active part of the community of writers. This means sharing experiences and whatever knowledge those experiences have imparted to those pursuing this same journey. So I treasure this work, and on most days I’m overwhelmed by the fact that I now have the amazing privilege of pursuing a career in letters.
Where do you write?
Pat Conroy wrote everything longhand on yellow legal pads and adhered to a rigorous daily schedule that included both exercise and naps to keep him fresh. I’m not so disciplined. I write on a laptop, most frequently in my study (which has a lovely view of the woods behind my house), and most often at night after the day’s obligations have been met. I’ve probably written more words between 10:00 PM and 2:00 AM than any other period.
I’m hopeful that I can do more during the day, although those hours are usually reserved for editing projects I’m assigned through my publisher, Koehler Books.
When do you write?
I do not write at regular hours, nor do I write every day, but, without exception, I think about my writing daily. Most nights I go to sleep with storylines or character development rolling around my thoughts. I’ve concluded that my writing germinates, then grows like an embryo until it’s finally ready to come forward.
As a result, I tend to write in bursts, sometimes days at a time, and for hours each day, while a thought or idea or narrative arc makes itself complete. There’s no preset word count or time limit. I write until the ideas exhaust themselves.
I also outline everything, perhaps as a way of capturing those embryonic thoughts and helping them to gestation. I outline chapters, narratives, and themes. I create a character outline for every persona, including everything I can conceive about each actor, even those things that will never make it into any narrative. I want to work with fully rounded, three-dimensional characters and plots, and leave nothing to chance. It’s difficult enough to wrestle with the words and images, so it’s essential to me to know intimately what it is I’m trying to portray.
I know, too, that there are no universal formulas. I’d never advise any writer to approach things the way I do. Every writer needs to find his or her best way to bring out the best possible work.
Why do you write?
I write to try to understand my own life.
I believe that there is no such thing as true fiction. Everything we write is the product of experience, observation, absorption or interpretation. When I write, I believe I’m actually delving into the central and most critical conclusions of my own journey, and, if I am truly fortunate and well focused, there may be some universality in all that.
But when I sit down to write fiction, I’m writing for myself and from myself. This type of writing is both painful and cathartic. The themes are personal, and there are seldom any lasting resolutions. As noted before, the importance is in the questions that demand asking, even though the answers are elusive, and often illusory.
How do you overcome writer’s block?
When I’m stuck, I reach for the great books, the ones I’ve read before and the ones that show me again how brilliantly the language can capture the finest ideas and make them soar like dancing birds — Pat Conroy, Niall Williams, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, Melville, and so on. They let me chase the thoughts that are just beyond my grasp and ground me again in the skills of the craft.
And if that doesn’t work, I’ll go for a walk, or repair something around the house, or just watch a ball game. It seems that the thoughts get clogged when I try too hard.
I’ve learned to trust the process. If there’s truly any worth in what I’m trying to write, it will emerge through its own momentum. A writer can’t force what isn’t really there.
Bonus: What do you enjoy doing when not writing?
I love good wine and better conversation. One of my favorite times is watching the sun go down from our deck while drinking am oaky white in the summer and a soft red in the winter, talking with my wife, my son, or any friends who happen by.
I love baseball, the sport which best embodies hope, resiliency, and persistence, all in the (usually) lazy days of summer, on green grass and under a blue sky. I played it as a boy, coached my son, and have never let it go.
And now I love fantasizing about when this pandemic ends and we can all go back to recreating the communities we’ve lost during this awful and turbulent time.