Award-winning author Barry Lopez has earned himself a reputation as one of the most respected and celebrated writers of our time. His work has explored a wide range of topics, from environmentalism and animal rights to philosophy and spirituality.
In this exclusive interview, Barry Lopez shares his thoughts on his creative process, the power of storytelling, and his vision for a better world.
From the importance of risk-taking to the need to be open to new ideas, his insights offer a fascinating window into the mind of a masterful writer. Through his words, we can gain a greater understanding of the immense power of literature to shape and inspire us.
Barry Lopez’s Creative Process
Question:What’s your writing process like? How do you go about developing a new project?
Answer:I’ve had a couple of different writing processes over the years, as well as a couple of different periods of my life where I wrote more.
The writing process I’ve been using for the last couple of decades is to do some kind of research about a passage of time or a setting, and then to let it sit- incubate- until a narrative or a series of narrative pieces comes out of that.
I think the research process is as important- or even more important- than the creative process, which is a fairly quick, sometimes even impatient process.
The Power of Storytelling
Question:What role does storytelling play in our lives? Why do you think it’s such an important part of the human experience?
Answer:I think storytelling is the way we come to know ourselves, one another, and our place in the world.
It’s the way we make sense of things that are happening, as well as things that happened in the past. It’s the way we assign meaning to things and to events. It’s our way of constructing understanding and meaning.
Risk-Taking in Writing
Question:Why do you think writers so often shy away from risk-taking? What can they do to push themselves outside of their comfort zone?
Answer:Well, one can’t generalise, but I think most writers are perfectionists. They are also, probably, anxious people.
Risk-taking might entail any number of things. It might be writing outside of your normal subject matter or style. It might mean putting your writing out there before it’s “ready.”
It might mean writing something that might not receive any positive response. But, whatever it is, it’s important to push yourself as a writer.
Barry Lopez’s Vision for a Better World
Question:What advice do you have for people who want to create a better world? How can we use the power of storytelling for social change?
Answer:I think the first thing is to recognize that there are many, many ways to make the world better.
I also think it’s important to recognize that, no matter how much you might want to make the world a better place, you can’t do it alone. People have to be engaged in social issues, environmental issues, cultural issues, and so on.
The intellectual energy of people has to be directed toward these issues. Right now, I think we’re seeing a pretty significant retrenchment, in terms of people’s willingness to engage in the world outside their own interests.
I think one way writers and artists can contribute to making the world a better place is to try and engage people in these issues.
Exploring Different Perspectives Through Writing
Question:How do you think creative writing can help us understand and empathise with different perspectives?
Answer:Well, I think the best writing- fiction, memoir, essay- engages the reader on a number of levels, including the level of emotion. It elicits feelings, as well as thoughts. It can cause an emotional response.
That’s important because, in many ways, that’s how we come to know other people. We come to know other people emotionally. We don’t come to know other people intellectually, but emotionally.
Barry Lopez’s Advice for Writers
Question:What advice do you have for aspiring writers? What are the most important skills aspiring writers should cultivate?
Answer:Well, reading and writing, I guess. The most important thing is to stay connected to your work. Don’t let yourself get distracted from the work itself. Discipline is important. But also remember that writing is a way of communicating with yourself.
It’s a way of exploring and understanding yourself and the world you live in. Don’t be discouraged by rejections, by bad reviews, by criticisms. Instead, learn from them. If a piece of your work is criticised, try to figure out what the criticism is and why that person might have said it.
Nowadays, we have endless opportunities to distract ourselves. From social media to endless podcasts, people have a seemingly endless supply of content to consume. However, while all of this content is great, it can also become just another distraction.
In order to cultivate a healthy reading and writing habit, we need to protect the time and space for reflection and exploring our own creativity. Through reading, we can learn from the experiences and perspectives of others.
Through writing, we can cultivate a deeper understanding of our own experiences and expand our own perspective. Through both, we can discover new worlds and new ways of thinking, feeling, and being.