Read our interview with Maggie Mitchell, author of the novel Pretty Is


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What things go through your mind when you are deciding on a plot for a new novel?

As a first-time novelist, I’m not yet sure how to answer this question! For my first novel, I circled and circled around and idea that had obsessed me for a long time, and finally I pounced. That seems to be how my second novel is taking shape, too. So perhaps that’s my process!

What things would you tell someone who was thinking of starting writing a novel?

I think it’s important to have faith in your idea—to believe that it’s really important, truly worthwhile. There will be dark days when you are full of doubt, and you’ll need that faith to get you through.

How do you relax when writing something major to make sure you have time for other things?

Time for other things? There are other things?

Seriously, when I’m really in the thick of it, I like to avoid other things as much as possible. But I do have a job—I teach at a university—so for the most part, that’s not a luxury I have. And then it’s just a matter of juggling—there are no magical solutions, I’m afraid. It’s always a struggle. I do think it’s important to stay connected to other people. When I’m writing furiously, I can start to get really disconnected, as if I’m alone on a faraway planet. That feels dangerous to me. So I try to make time for wine with friends. It sounds frivolous, but I think it’s sanity-saving.

How does the internet help you? Do you find yourself researching extensively?

I research when I need to. For Pretty Is, I didn’t have to do a great deal of research; my next book will be different. The internet is great for little things—there’s a moment in Pretty Is where Lois, who is writing a novel, needs to know how long a person can survive locked in the trunk of a car. (Boot, you would say!) So I have her Google it. That was a strange bit of meta-research. I read a little bit about pageants for little girls, which helped with Carly May’s childhood. I calculated mileage up the Pacific coast for Chloe’s road trip so I could select a plausible place for her to stop for the night. Of course that sort of thing can also be a distraction—I try not to let myself hop online whenever a question crosses my mind; I write them down and set time aside. My new book will require more extensive research—perhaps some archival research, even. It will be new territory for me.

Do you talk to your friends about what you are writing or are you quite private?

I talk to friends and family a little bit, in pretty broad strokes. I don’t like to say too much—I think that’s pretty common. I once talked excitedly and in detail about the lot of a novel I was thinking about and found that it absolutely killed the spark. That book was dead before it even started. It was a valuable lesson. I have one friend who reads my work as I am writing, and I read hers, but that’s different.

What 5 things do you find yourself doing if you want a great day?

I am laughing as I write this, because a friend suggests I answer bath, bourbon, and boys….Here’s my real answer:

1. A little morning yoga.

2. Cook a nice little breakfast…scrambled eggs and tomatoes, maybe.

3. Play music.

4. Tidy writing space: no clutter, no reminders of other tasks or demands.

5. Make sure there’s wine in the fridge for later.  –It sounds so easy!

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Pretty Is available to buy now from Amazon.