This is excerpted from an interview with Mary Karr in the Winter 2009 issue of The Paris Review:
INTERVIEWERDo you have any writing rituals, things you have to do in order to write?
KARRI pray. I ask God what to write. I know that sounds insane, but I do. I say: What do you want me to say? I have a sense that God wanted these books written. That doesn’t mean they’re meant to be bestsellers. Nor am I hearing voices. But a lot of times I’ll get stuck and I’ll just say, Help me. A nonbeliever might think of it as talking to my superego, or some better self. But I do have a sense of being guided.
INTERVIEWERWhat does it sound like when you get stuck?
KARRFuck. Shit. Don’t. Fuck. You dumb bitch—who ever told you that you could write? That’s what it sounds like.
INTERVIEWERWhen did you start praying?
KARRWhen I got sober, in 1989—twenty years ago now. Only with prayer could I stop drinking for more than a day or two. Once I made three months clean, but it was a white-knuckled horror show. Call it self-hypnosis, prayer, whatever. To skeptics I say, Just try it. Pray every day for thirty days. See if your life gets better. If it doesn’t, tell me I’m an asshole. People tend to judge a faith’s value based on its dogma, which ignores religion in practice. It’s like believing if you watch enough porn or read enough gynecology books, you’ll know about pussy. For me, being a Catholic is a set of activities. Certain dogma seems nuts to me too. I’m not the Pope’s favorite Catholic.
INTERVIEWERDo you pray before you write, or during?
KARRBoth. I try to pray formally morning and night starting with breathing exercises or centering prayer. Then the Lord’s Prayer or the Prayer of St. Francis: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace...” Sometimes I listen to the daily liturgy on my iPod from Pray-As-You-Go.com, or I go online at Sacred Space—both Jesuit sites. I say thank you a lot. This morning I walked out saying, Thank you for the wind, thank you for the blue sky. Really dumb, puerile stuff. At night I do what Jesuits call an examen of conscience, plus I keep a list of people to pray for.