In 1946, George Orwell articulated the reasons why he put pen to paper in an essay entitled Why I Write.
In this Web series, authors talk about their literary habits and reading preferences,
and examine Orwell's question that lies at the heart of being an author—why they write.

Rachel DeWoskin

Foreign Babes in Beijing 

Rachel DeWoskin is the author of the China memoir Foreign Babes In Beijing (2005), and the novels Repeat After Me (2009) and Big Girl Small (2011).


Why I write

In order not to forget what to get at the grocery store. Or what happened while I was alive, in case I’m ever dead.


Do you write every day? If so, how many hours?

I used to lead a luxurious life, which included things like writing for a million hours in a row in a fit of inspiration and then percolating ideas and waiting to write again until the words were easy. I also used those years to window-shop the fridge and take phone calls. But then, weirdly, I wasn’t in my twenties anymore. And I had some scrumptious babies and to my great surprise, they created chaos in what had always been my utterly open schedule. Now I write as if there’s a drill sergeant above me, shouting and threatening and ticking and tocking. I wrote my new novel last year, four days a week, from exactly 10 am until 1 pm, when I had a babysitter for my smallest girl. The rest of the time I spent reading Knuffle Bunny, singing ‘Wheels on the Bus,’ and occasionally trying to have a conversation, see a play, or teach my classes at NYU.


Worst source of distraction?

My lovely, incredibly busy family. Beijing, New York and reading.


Best source of inspiration?

My lovely, incredibly busy family. Beijing, New York and reading.


How often do you get writers’ block/doubt your own ability?

I’m so plagued by self-doubt that it has a kind of 180 effect and becomes inspiration. I feel sometimes like if I had slightly less self-doubt, I might be completely paralyzed by it, but I have it in such spades that it compels me to turn sentences around until they’re as perfect as I can possibly make them. Needless to say, that’s never perfect enough, so I feel more wracking doubt and write more. And so it goes.


Contemporary writer in any medium who you never miss?

Anne Carson.


Favorite Chinese writer?

Is it a terrible cliché to say Li Bai or Wang Wei? I love their poems.


Best book about China?

There are many books about China that I admire and some I love. Two of my favorites are the ancient Lie Nu Zhuan (Biographies of Model Women) and Dream of the Red Chamber. I learned a lot about China from those two books. I also learned about China and the West from Jonathan Spence’s fabulous book To Change China. I love that book.


Favorite book?

I don’t always answer this question the same way. Autobiography of Red is a life-changing-ly, staggeringly beautiful book. Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose slays me every time I read it, and I’ve just recently re-read it. I re-read all the time. Annie Proulx’s Close Range: Wyoming StoriesLolita. Flannery O’Conner’s collected stories. Brothers Karamazov. Elizabeth Bishop’s gorgeous collected poems. Montale’s Satura, translated by Arrowsmith.Charlotte’s Web. Chris Ware’s crazy beautiful Jimmy Corrigan. I don’t like to pick one favorite book. It depends on the year, the moment, the mood, who you are when, right? I re-read the books I love most over and over; they’re like different cities or worlds – I want to live in each of them at different times – and get to, over and over.


Favorite writer?

I won’t kill you with another answer like the favorite-book one. Probably Dostoevsky.


The book you know you should have read but haven’t?

This used to be Moby Dick, and the question came up so often that I had to fix the terrible void in my life by reading it. And I loved Moby Dick and was relieved for about five minutes. But now it’s Proust. Ugh. I’m embarrassed.


You look back at the first thing you had published and think…

I still think – Hooray! It was a poem called ‘The Caretaker’s Daughter.’ And even though that poem could certainly be made better, it represents a moment I still cherish. I was in grad school at the time, on rollerblades, and I pulled up to my mailbox in Boston and found the letter from a literary magazine saying they were taking the poem. I did figure eights in the lobby of my apartment building, while I called my mom. I was so thrilled I was beside myself.


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Posted on: December 23rd, 2012 by admin No Comments