Why Richard Powers schedules his writing around what nature is doing

Our November pick for the PBS NewsHour-New York Times book club, “Now Read This,” is Richard Powers’ novel “The Overstory.” Become a member of the book club by joining our Facebook group , or by signing up to our newsletter . Learn more about the book club here . In 1854, The San Francisco Daily Chronicle expressed concern about how many trees in the region were being cut down — many of them mammoth redwoods.

“Soon the whole neighborhood will be cleared of growing timber,” the paper wrote. “Already the fairest and largest trees have fallen before fire, axe, and saw.”

Fast forward more than a century and a half. Author Richard Powers, who had previously written novels about music and computer science, was so moved after a walk in the redwoods that he came home and read about why much of the old-growth forests had been cut down, and why any were left.

He soon began writing “The Overstory,” our November book club pick. It’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about trees, activism, and humans’ disconnect today with the natural world.

Below, Powers shares how nature has changed how he writes and lives, the importance of being present and paying attention, and what the book “Harold and the Purple Crayon” means to him. 1. What is your daily writing routine?

That now depends entirely on the season and the weather! Before writing “The Overstory,” I stuck to a fairly rigorous routine of starting in early after breakfast — usually around 7am — and writing until I had a thousand words that pleased me. That could take anywhere from three to 12 hours. I did that almost every weekday for a third of a century, when I had no other obligations. But research for “The Overstory” moved me to the Great Smoky Mountains, and I now have half a million acres of national park in my back yard. About a quarter of that is old-growth forest. From the spring ephemeral wildflower shows, to the spectacular winter views from the ridge trails, something astonishing is happening at some altitude of the Southern Appalachians, in every week of the year. I now build my writing around what the time and season and day are offering. I still write all the time; I just do it in those hours that make most sense, given what else life has going on at the time. As Thoreau says, “Breath the air, drink the drink, taste the fruits, live in each season as it passes. Resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” 2. What is your favorite childhood book?

“Harold and the Purple Crayon,” by Crockett Johnson. Published two years before I was born, the book was among very first stories I ever read. It gripped me then, and it has never really let me go. If you want to walk in the moonlight, you might have to draw your own moon. If you can’t find a way back home, you might have to draw your own trail. I […]

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