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Jhumpa Lahiri's Writing Techniques

Jhumpa Lahiri’s latest short story collection, Unaccustomed Earth, has got good reviews. In this interview she shares some of her writing techniques.

Lahiri: I really can’t explain how I write, or what I’m thinking of consciously. I studied literature for so long, and was taught all of these things so deeply, all too well. I was trained to read stories, and to appreciate these elements, but when I write the stories I become a different person altogether. Everything goes out the window, and nothing applies in that sense.

Before I had my first child, I took Lamaze classes. They walk you through all of the things, and the experiences, and you practice, and you learn it in a sort of theoretical way. Then I remember the actual experience of giving birth, and nothing was registering at that point, you know? [Laughter] It wasn’t like at one point I could turn to my husband and say, “Oh, let’s do that thing that they taught us!” It was so purely in the moment of what was happening. In a way I feel like when I write, I’m just in that moment of writing, and none of the knowledge I have is able to penetrate.[Jhumpa Lahiri ]

One of the reasons why her stories flow so well is due to a simple technique called revising.

Lahiri: That’s really all I do. It’s all a process for me of continued revision. I worked on most of the stories in this book for several years. When I finished some, and I published some, along the way, then I considered them done, but I still worked on them for a considerable length of time, and the ones I didn’t publish, I continued to work on. Most of these stories were simmering for two to three years, minimum.[Jhumpa Lahiri ]

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3 Responses to Jhumpa Lahiri's Writing Techniques

  1. niraj May 5, 2008 at 6:12 am #

    JK:

    Excellent post as usual. That it takes Jhumpa Lahiri years to write one story, and constantly revising while doing it, is a relief to my eyes because I’m basically the same way with my blog. I have ceased to topical years ago because the time constraints were much too narrow. I like to take my time to write what I want to write when I want.

  2. JK May 5, 2008 at 7:24 am #

    Niraj, I can see such changes happening in myself – trying to add a bit more analysis. This is vastly different from 2003 when the goal was to post the same things as in newspapers without much analysis.

    Still 2-3 years for a short story is quite a lot of time, but as you read her work, you can see the effect of such painstaking editing.

  3. Niraj May 5, 2008 at 11:01 am #

    JK:

    I agree. I have read a couple of Jhumpa’s short stories: they are simple yet elegant. Jhumpa treats writing as a craft as well as an intellectual exercise.

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