Being a writer according to James McBride

James McBride (©Chia Messina)

On being a writer
I don’t like sitting around talking about work. Invariably it ends up with, “I didn’t like this book for that reason; I didn’t like this one for that reason.” A writer can’t be too negative. You have to have a little bit of innocence to be a good writer. Whatever you have to do to preserve that innocence-the “is that so?” element—you should do it. You can’t be someone who knows everything-“been there, done that.” If you know every­ thing you shouldn’t be a writer. You should be God.
You need that sense of discovery as a writer, and part of that comes from the attitude you have. You have to stay away from people and places that foster cynicism and bitterness.

On being a writer of color
Publishers love the idea of a black person who’s showing they were a thug doing dope and crack-the whole business of “I was lost but now I’m found; I was blind but now I see.” This is a real problem for black writers. The industry is accustomed to black writers writing about pain and struggle. I can think of a half dozen white writers who write about the same things and never had to deal with being marginalized. They’re just seen as writers, period.
I happen to think that a good black writer is the one who writes a book anyone will like. If a writer’s good, readers will read those books and feel illuminated. That’s the only way our industry will continue to grow. We have to embrace writers who are different just like we embrace a president who’s different. If we don’t, as a society we’ll wither on the vine.

On being a rewarding writer
In this world of blogging and telecommuting and Twitter, memoirists have to speak to deeper things.
We’re writing memoirs 140 characters at a time, which means we’re basically writing nothing. If you’re writing nothing maybe you’re living nothing. Before you put your story down, first change the manner in which you’re living. If you do that, you won’t find yourself writing a Broadway show with five minutes of spiritual uplift and then everyone goes home.
If you walk around with earplugs in, that won’t give you something to say. Nothing you’re going to write will be of im­port. Put those earbuds away and join the Peace Corps in Peru. That’ll give you something to work with.

Extraits de l'article “James McBride Explains Why He Writes Memoir“ (Electric Literature 25/01/2016)