Pulitzer Prize-winning Anthony Doerr on his planning process

Doerr, who won the Pulitzer Prize for the modern classic “All the Light We Cannot See,” discusses with Julianne Gee of the Boise State University “Arbiter” how drawing engages him to write with greater complexity. Doerr briefly worked with their creative writing department.

After the publication of his latest book, Cloud Cuckoo Land, in September, Anthony Doerr sat down for an interview with The Arbiter in Idaho. Doerr is quoted as saying, “Growing up, you always think good novelists live in Brazil and Buenos Aires or Paris or they’re dead. Every day you have to give yourself permission and say, ‘You know, even though I live right here in Boise, it’s okay to try to make something that people might read in Brazil or in Paris.'”

We study Doerr extensively in the Master of Arts program for professional creative writing at the University of Denver; he is, without hyperbole, one of the most gifted authors working today, and you could do far worse than learn from his comedic timing in his sentences, or the grander storytelling structures he erects out of this acumen for the micro level. Like all masters of the written word, he knows how to make it appear as though he comes by this skillset naturally, but, during the prewriting phase for Cloud Cuckoo Land, he reveals he scaffolded the outline with a diagram. As for what inspired him to write with such wealth and depth, Doerr attributes it to his grandmother’s Alzheimer’s disease – “I just thought I’m going to try the most complicated thing I can try right now, while I still can,” he says.

The rhizome concept is represented as a tangled web of roots in this sketch.
This drawing of a “rhizome,” or underground root system, mirrors the intricacy of Anthony Doerr’s own “map” for “Cloud Cuckoo Land.” (Image Courtesy: The Arbiter).