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This blog was featured on 08/01/2018
R.O. Kwon On the Call to be a Writer, Finding Inspiration and the Importance of Residencies
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
July 2018
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
July 2018

July 31st marks the release of R.O. Kwon’s debut novel The Incendiaries, a story that took her 10 years to tell. Lauded as one of the top authors to watch this summer, Kwon has impressed many with her breakout novel as well as her unique personality and take on writing.

Like many authors, Kwon has been asked many times how she knew that being a writer was what she was called to do. In an interview with American Booksellers Association her answer to the question is so relatable.

“I always loved reading and I knew I wanted to be a writer starting around high school. Then when I went to college, I took writing classes and I absolutely loved them, but I’m an immigrant and my parents are immigrants and it didn’t seem clear to me that being a writer was an available path — I just thought that I might need health insurance and things like that. So I worked for a consulting firm in New York and was miserable, in part because the job was terrible, but also because I wasn’t writing. I remember looking out the window on a flight that I was taking for work. The view was beautiful, and I was thinking to myself, if I give up writing I’ll have no reason to try to describe it to myself, and that made me feel just so sad. It made me feel like there was no point to the beauty, in a way, if I wasn’t trying to describe it in words. So that was a pivotal moment for me: realizing how I much I needed that and how much that gave purpose to my life.”

The call to pursue writing oftentimes comes from the beauty of other writers; being so moved by words and passages that you want to be able to invoke those feelings with your own talents. When speaking with The Atlantic, Kwon shared how she uses that inspiration as a reference.

“Usually when I truly love a writer, and I’ve worked through all their fiction or poetry or essays or whatever it is, I’ll turn toward their letters and journals. That’s how I found a line from one of Edith Wharton’s letters, something that stuck with me throughout the long process of completing my novel. I can’t remember when it was exactly—I just know I needed to write it down. I keep a giant, running document of bits and pieces from books I love. I’ve found that document to be helpful when I’m stuck, and sometimes I just turn to it for pleasure, really. If I read something online that I want to keep, I’ll paste it in. When I’m reading a book, I’ll write down all the page numbers in the back with lines I’ve underlined, short passages I want to keep for myself. When I finish the book, I’ll go through it again and copy into my document the lines or phrases I think I might later want or need.”

Kwon devoted 10 years to the writing of The Incendiaries and is now a few years into her second book. She shared with The Rumpus how that process went and whether or not the second book came easier for her.

“I don’t know where the story is going, no. On the one hand, with my second novel, which I’ve been working on when I can I’m relearning right now how frustrating that can be. On the other hand, I think if I knew what has happening I would be so bored. I would never write the book. When I write, both in fiction and nonfiction, I’m slowly working through questions that I may or may not be able to answer.”

“It doesn’t feel easy. It feels difficult in new ways. The one lesson I definitely took away from the first book was to not agonize over the language during the first few drafts. I’ve already lost count of how many drafts there have been of the second novel. I don’t want to know how much work is going into it—I don’t want to get too discouraged. I write in very short fragments. I write a few words, line break, write a few words, line break, so it almost looks like a poem, but it’s not. It’s just a way for me to get around my own need to obsess over the sentences, because when it’s broken up that way, it’s harder to see the sentence as a whole.”

In order to help her get centered and continue to grow as a writer, Kwon shared with NDR how important residencies are to her and her process.

“I love residencies. I really, really love residencies. It’s not that I require residencies to write — during the ten years I was writing my novel, I worked on it almost every day, residency or no residency. What I find particularly valuable about residencies is that you can enter into a space where you don’t have to think about anything else. You don’t have to think about what you’ll eat for dinner; you don’t have to think about your plans to see your friends that night. So, I can enter into a headspace in which, for three or four weeks at a time, I don’t have to leave my novel. That’s magical, and that’s something I can’t quite find outside of residencies.”

Like most of us, Kwon has a bit of a love-hate relationship with social media. In her interview with Kollaboration San Francisco she shared the unexpected doors it's opened up for her.

“In some ways I wish social media weren't quite so present in my life, what with the amount of time it takes and how distracting it can be. On the other hand, I do love that I have so many friendships with far-flung writers who live all around the country and even the world. I don't think it would be possible to the extent it is without social media. So in those ways I'm I'm really grateful for it.”

(Photo Credit R.O. Kwon and designed by She Writes)

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