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Wisdom from a novelist

Jill McCorkle may be the most quotable writer I’ve ever had the pleasure of speaking with. McCorkle, a fiction novelist and creative writing professor at NC State, visited Elon Monday to share some insight with us.

Something struck me about McCorkle: the fact that she was able to so eloquently and honestly answer any and all questions my reporting class threw her way.

I asked three questions during our 60-minute discussion with her. Here are my questions and her brilliant responses:

1. What are the major differences between a journalistic writing process and a creative non-fiction writing process?

One of the biggest, most obvious differences, said McCorkle, is that non-fiction gives you the license to lie and to fill in the blanks. “On a good day, writing non-fiction does feel like a stream of consciousness,” McCorkle said. But, she said, the two have the aspect of self-disipline in common. Some of McCorkle’s most disciplined friends began with a career in journalism. Also, the revision process of creative writing is not unlike journalism, she said. But McCorkle admited that she was always the student who wrote the paper before writing the outline. “In fiction, it’s easier to not know where you’re going,” McCorkle said.

Courtesy of jillmcorkle,com

Courtesy of jillmccorkle.com

2. Have you ever created a character you didn’t like? How were you able to cultivate that character throughout the story?

McCorkle said that creating characters she doesn’t like is something that certainly happens more than people would think. But, she works hard to try to redeem those characters, although not always succeeding. When she finds herself disapproving of a character she has created, she pictures the worst person, and then pictures them as an infant, totally innocent. “[At that point] you become aware of all the external factors that could have made a person a certain way,” McCorkle said. An important part of creating a character, she said, is “knowing a lot more than makes it on the page.” 

3. I’ve heard that people must be good readers before they are good writers, what’s your take on that? Do you draw inspiration from your favorite novels?

Reading is such an important part of writing, you learn so much by osmosis, you absorb,” McCorkle said. Reading works of writers whom you admire is an important part of growing, she said. Personally, McCorkle said she reads a lot of poetry because it caters to her fast-paced lifestyle. “If I’m working on a novel, it’s easier for me to read non-fiction and/or poetry,” said McCorkle, “it’s hard to stay in two worlds at one time.”



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