A writer can find her voice in all kinds of ways: Elizabeth Strout found hers through stand-up comedy...
A writer can find her voice in all kinds of ways: Elizabeth Strout found hers through stand-up comedy. She was still a young writer, had published some short fiction but not yet a novel, and was feeling “really, really stuck with my writing,” she said. “I could feel that something was not happening.” What she needed, she decided, was some sort of intense pressure that would force her to dig deeper, be more honest. So she signed up for a comedy class. Strout had always been curious about what succeeds and what fails in the intimate, judgmental environment of a comedy club. “To me, it seemed to come down to whether or not what the comic said was true,” she said. “I wondered what would happen if I put myself in that kind of pressure-cooker situation. What would come out of my mouth?” For the class’s final exam, she performed at a club in New York. “I ended up making jokes about myself for being such an uptight Puritan-like person from New England. And I thought, ‘Oh, that’s what I am. How funny. I didn’t know it!’ ” Her comedy gig was a hit — “They asked if I wanted to audition and come back for a regular spot on Tuesday nights.” (She declined.) More important, the comedy did the trick. Strout settled down and wrote her first novel, the bestselling “Amy and Isabelle,” about an uptight Puritan-like person from New England.