How award-winning author Jonathan Franzen writes
Have you noticed lately that the world has gotten louder? I often feel overwhelmed by music and noise almost everywhere I go, from supermarkets and hair salons, to coffee shops and restaurants. And it’s not just audible noise. Information overload in general from so many sources cuts away at my focus. I confess that I have a love-hate relationship with technology.
So when I saw an interview with writer Jonathan Franzen, author of “The Corrections” (fiction winner of the 2001 National Book Award) and Freedom, I identified with his perspective about writing. He says his goal when he approaches a project is to produce a book that can stand up to the noisy culture – a book that will grab readers from all the distractions that bombard them.
To do that work, Franzen isolates himself. That means no Internet or phone at his office.
“I do go to an office,” Franzen said in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. “It’s dark, it’s cold, and it’s as quiet as I can make it.” He goes to his office right after waking to be as close to sleeping as possible because he is trying to write in the state that the reader’s read in and how they experience novels – as a waking dream.
Once at his office, Franzen says, “I try to think about the things that make me the most uncomfortable and the things that I most don’t want to think about. And I do that for years and make myself miserable and start to figure out what the deep conflicts in myself are.” His theory is that if he can figure out what’s going on in himself, he can mirror what’s going on in society.
“A lot of it has to do with turning the noise down,” Franzen said. “I think we have 100 times more noise than we need. If you get rid of 99 percent, instead of dealing with a million things coming at you, you have a thousand things.”
Then you can actually pay attention to those thousand, see them one at a time, and order them into a narrative. That, Franzen says, is the work.