Painter, Teacher, Writer: a Career Progresses
Polymath. The dictionary defines this as a person with expertise in several areas of knowledge and ability. It seems an apt term to apply to Laguna resident Andrew Winer. He has been a working painter, with regular shows in New York and Los Angeles, and is an essayist in fine art. He is an award-winning teacher. And his second novel, “The Marriage Artist,” is reaping praise by a diverse range of reviewers, from Publishers Weekly, the bible of the publishing industry, to Margot Livesey, a grande dame of British writing.
It currently tops the best-seller list at Laguna Beach Books, 1200 S. Coast Highway, which is holding a signing for him on Saturday, Nov. 13, at 2 p.m. He will also give a reading and take questions.
The Indy was fortunate to have the opportunity to interview this warm, enthusiastic writer.
Indy: Are you an easy, fluent writer, or do you having to drag yourself kicking and screaming to the desk?
Winer: As long as I have a project going, I get to the desk quickly. But writing is still the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. It involves an unbelievable amount of focus applied over enormous, unbroken spans of time. There is constant problem-solving, deep thinking, and decision-making to be done. I re-write constantly, obsessively. I can’t stand the thought of unpolished prose behind me. And it doesn’t stop when you call it a day. You’re still figuring out a scene, passage, or sentence while having dinner, taking a walk, showering, and dreaming.
Indy: Your work-schedule as a writer is impressive. You write six days a week, from morning until 6 p.m. Where does your self-discipline come from?
Winer: Painting gave me discipline. It taught me the value in sitting down (or standing up, in some cases) for 12 straight hours and working with intense focus on a piece of art, bringing to bear on one single work all of my knowledge of craft, all of my intellectual and emotional abilities, and all of my physical and psychic energy. That is an accurate description of what happens now when I write, especially when I’m on a big novel like “The Marriage Artist,” a project whose ambition exceeds me and forces me to create something larger than myself and, in many ways, outside of myself.
Indy: You also teach creative writing at UC Riverside. You’ve been awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction, as well as an innovative teaching award from the Academy of Distinguished Teaching. How has being a teacher contributed to your skill as a writer?
Winer: Teaching creative writing is quite a different enterprise than teaching many other subjects. I assign a lot of novels I’m passionate about, and I believe in praising greatness, in providing students with many models of excellence and asking them to join me in trying to figure out how those beautiful books were made. Writers (and writing students) are part innocents, or autodidacts: they are students of the masterworks, forever. Being consistently engaged in this process, whether I’m doing it on my own or sharing it with my students, has enlarged me as a writer – at the level of language (the English language), craft, vision, spirit, philosophy, history of the novel and the world.
Dinah Shields is a book-industry lifer. She is owner of Bespoke Libraries, a Laguna-based private library service. www.bespokelibrariesca.com