Last week I attended Barbara Kingsolver’s reading from her new book Flight Behavior at the Washington National Cathedral.   She’s a literary hero of mine for her dedication to writing about and celebrating books that address issues of social justice.  “Flight Behavior” is the only fiction book I know that addresses climate change, and I applaud her courageous in writing such a novel.  She admitted during the question and answer segment that there will likely be people who give the book negative reviews online without having read it, simply because of its topic.

Kingsolver’s statements about her process in writing a first draft and revision were particularly interesting to me as a developing writer.  When she approaches a new book, she uses her training as a scientist.  She first develops a hypothesis, or a question about life or humanity that she wants to think through or answer.  Next she creates a plot to test that hypothesis.  Third, she writes characters to act out that plot, and then fills in their lives and backstory.  She said she doesn’t use people from her life as characters, because they would never act according to the script she needs to carry out the plot she’s created.

Kingsolver said she believes the real art is in the revision, which is also what she enjoys most.  She could revise forever and must go through hundreds of drafts, stopping only when she’s at the point of diminishing returns – when she’s at the point where she’s removing a word, only to put it right back.  “It’s the love of creation that gets me to my desk every day,” she told us.

A self-identified member of the Green Party asked if she could be recruited to run for office in Southwestern Virginia, where she lives on a farm with her family.  She responded that if she works very hard at it, she could be a pretty good writer, but that no matter how hard she worked, she’d never make a good politician.  I disagree, but I’m glad she will continue to write books.


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