How I write

Linda Greenlaw, 41, appreciates her smooth voyage to bestseller status, but just the same, the fisherman/writer would rather be out on her boat. "My pipe dream," she says, "is to make enough money from writing to go fishing just because I want to and not because I have to pay bills." Hers was a quick path to publication: In his hit book The Perfect Storm, Sebastian Junger called Greenlaw, then running a commercial swordfishing boat, "one of the best captains ... on the entire East Coast." With that, a publisher approached her for her own story, which became The Hungry Ocean (1999), and she became a consultant for the film drama about the horrendous storm, which sank another fishing vessel, killing six of Greenlaw's friends. In her latest book, The Lobster Chronicles (2002), she chronicles a season as a commercial lobster fisherman. Greenlaw, who earned a degree in English and government from Colby College, lives on Isle au Haut, a tiny island seven miles off the Maine coast. She said she hoped to start work on a novel late this year but not until her lobster traps were out of the water.

Why: I was very content to be a fisherman; writing was not something I ever anticipated doing. I never had the burning desire to write; I was approached by a publisher. Because the first book did well, the publisher asked if I'd like to try another, and I was enthusiastic about trying it again. I knew how fortunate I was because I have friends who have written and written and can't hire someone to read their work. How: I work in a notebook longhand and I make all of my corrections and changes. I cross things out and put arrows in the margin and stick different pages in. I wear the paper out. Then, when I get to a point with a section or chapter where I'm making it worse instead of better, I type it into the computer. When I type it into the computer, it's really the final draft. Typing it in is my final chance to edit anything, but really, I've done all the work in the notebook.

I don't outline. I feel that with both my books I had a natural outline. With The Hungry Ocean I had a swordfishing trip; in The Lobster Chronicles I'm writing about a lobster season. I'm writing for the most part about my own experience, because they're very personal books. When and where: I write basically wherever I'm living; I wrote the majority of The Lobster Chronicles on the island. I write in the morning when I get up, until about lunchtime. Maybe four hours a day. What's harder: My only asset is my ability to work. Writing is harder for me than fishing. They're both hard work. I really enjoy fishing, but with writing, I really don't enjoy the process. Influences: I know who my favorite authors are, but I don't know if they've influenced my writing at all. My two favorite authors are Ernest Hemingway and Pat Conroy. Robert Frost was quoted in a biography talking about the sense of sound when you read someone. When I read Hemingway and Conroy, I like their sense of sound. Advice: I think I've written about things I'm passionate about my vast experience of two books! I've written about fishing, about the island, and hopefully people will get from The Lobster Chronicles that I love where I live. For me, writing is such a discipline that I think you have to do it every single day and not every day is a great day of writing. But I suspect some people think writers just write when they're inspired to write, and I think if you wait for that inspiration, you won't get a whole lot done. Quite often when I'm writing, something will just come to me, trigger some memory or thought, and what I end up writing about is much better than what I was planning to write about when I sat down. So if you write every day, you can wind up with something you didn't really plan to do.

This interview originally appeared in a different version in the December, 2002 issue of The Writer magazine. Grateful thanks for their permission to post it here.