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My Writing Life: interview with Yiyun Li

Yiyun Li, one of the judges on this year’s Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award, shares details about her life as an author

“In life we struggle and wrestle with many things. Writing is the activity where I only wrestle with myself”

Why do you write? What prompted you to first sit down and tell a story in words?

Bewilderment makes me write. If I had a clear picture and understanding of the world I would never have written.

Where do you write? What’s your routine like, on a normal writing day?

I write in my study, facing a window that provides plenty of distractions: birds and deer and foxes passing in and out of sight. I write in the morning, finishing up the work around 11am.

What do you love most about writing? What keeps you returning to the page, even when it might all feel as if it’s going nowhere?

In life we struggle and wrestle with many things. Writing is the activity where I only wrestle with myself.

Have you experienced any kind of “failure” in the world of writing? How did you overcome this? Did it lead to success further down the line?

I don’t connect words like failure and success with something I love, and I would prefer to think that my world of writing only has my mind and my pages in it.

What words of encouragement might you offer to other writers, those at the start of their careers perhaps, or who are experiencing bumps along the way?

There are external confirmations for one’s writing but they are not to be confused as joy of writing. One thing that sustains writing is the true joy one finds in words.

What’s next in terms of your own writing? What are your priorities for the next few years? Are there any curveballs on the horizon?

I am working on a novel at the moment, alongside with some short stories.

Has the pandemic impacted your writing in any way? Positive or negative?

The pandemic has given me a more reliable schedule for writing. In that sense I would call it positive.

Are you enjoying the process of judging the Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award? Have there been any surprises along the way?

I am enjoying the process tremendously at the moment. One of the reasons, I think, is that we read blindly, so without any set expectation beforehand, opening every story brings some thrill of discovery.

Interview by Sophie Haydock

Yiyun Li’s novel, Must I Go (Penguin, £9.99), will be published in paperback in August

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