Joyce Carol Oates — A Writing Icon on Creative Process and Creative Living (#497)

Illustration via 99designs

“If you feel that you just can’t write or you’re too tired or this, that, and the other, just stop thinking about it, and go and work. Life doesn’t have to be so overthought. You don’t have to wait to be inspired. Just start working.”

— Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates) is the author of novels, short story collections, poetry volumes, plays, essays, and criticism, including the national bestsellers We Were the Mulvaneys, Blonde, and A Widow’s Story. Among her many honors are the National Book Award, the PEN America Award, the National Humanities Medal, the 2019 Jerusalem Prize, and the 2020 Cino Del Duca World Prize for literature.

Joyce is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978.

Please enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform.

Brought to you by Pique Tea premium tea crystals (pu’er, etc.), ShipStation shipping software, and ExpressVPN virtual private network service. More on all three below.

#497: Joyce Carol Oates — A Writing Icon on Creative Process and Creative Living


This episode is brought to you by ShipStation. Do you sell stuff online? Then you know what a pain the shipping process is. ShipStation was created to make your life easier. Whether you’re selling on eBay, Amazon, Shopify, or over 100 other popular selling channels, ShipStation lets you access all of your orders from one simple dashboard, and it works with all of the major shipping carriers, locally and globally, including FedEx, UPS, and USPS. 

Tim Ferriss Show listeners get to try ShipStation free for 60 days by using promo code TIM. There’s no risk, and you can start your free trial without even entering your credit card info. Just visit, click on the microphone at the top of the homepage, and type in TIM!

This episode is brought to you by ExpressVPN. I’ve been using ExpressVPN to make sure that my data is secure and encrypted, without slowing my Internet speed. If you ever use public Wi-Fi at, say, a hotel or a coffee shop, where I often work and as many of my listeners do, you’re often sending data over an open network, meaning no encryption at all.

A great way to ensure that all of your data is encrypted and can’t be easily read by hackers is by using ExpressVPN. All you need to do is download the ExpressVPN app on your computer or smartphone and then use the Internet just as you normally would. You click one button in the ExpressVPN app to secure 100% of your network data. Use my link today and get an extra three months free on a one-year package!

This episode is brought to you by Pique TeaI first learned about Pique through my friends Dr. Peter Attia and Kevin Rose, and now Pique’s fermented pu’er tea crystals have become my daily go-to. I often kickstart my mornings with their Pu’er Green Tea and Pu’er Black Tea, and I alternate between the two. Their crystals are cold-extracted, using only wild-harvested leaves from 250-year-old tea trees. Plus, they triple toxin screen for heavy metals, pesticides, and toxic mold—contaminants commonly found in tea. I also use the crystals for iced tea, which saves a ton of time and hassle.

Pique is offering 15% off of their pu’er teas for the first time ever, exclusively to my listeners. Simply visit, and the discount will be automatically applied. They also offer a 30-day satisfaction guarantee, so your purchase is completely risk free. Just go to to learn more.

What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.


Want to hear another episode with a master of memoir? Listen to my conversation with award-winning author Mary Karr, in which we discuss curiosity and presence as a solution to fear, the role spirituality plays in maintaining her sobriety as a former atheist, coping with and expressing the aftermath of trauma, what she wished she’d known about therapy when she was younger, and much more.

#479: Mary Karr — The Master of Memoir on Creative Process and Finding Gifts in the Suffering



  • Connect with Joyce Carol Oates:

Twitter | Facebook


Note from the editor: Timestamps will be added shortly.

  • In Joyce’s estimation, what is the most important “writerly” quality? On the obverse side, what does she consider to be the biggest obstacle to creativity?
  • What does Joyce suggest to novice writers for overcoming the obstacles to creativity they’ll inevitably encounter?
  • Why does Joyce need to envision the end of a novel and its title before she can really begin writing it? How does her process differ from that of her friend, the late E.L. Doctorow?
  • Once Joyce has her title and ending in place to write toward, does she ever change them along the way?
  • How does physical activity fit into Joyce’s creative process?
  • How fleshed out is a typical ending before the rest of the writing begins in earnest, and what does Joyce’s revision regimen look like? How does she decide what stays and what goes?
  • When the writer Jonathan Safran Foer was a student of hers, how did she select what she considered to be essential reading for this budding talent?
  • Jonathan says Joyce was the first person to take him seriously as a writer. But what was the catalyst that allowed her to begin taking herself seriously as a writer?
  • When By the North Gate was published in 1963, Joyce had already been featured in magazines and won awards for her writing. How important did that first book feel as a personal milestone at the time?
  • As “a sympathetic and careful reader,” how does Joyce encourage young writers in her classroom?
  • On overcoming writer’s block with a strong work ethic, and why a lot of women seem to struggle with treating the time it takes to create something as a valuable commodity.
  • Does Joyce work on multiple projects at once, or does she commit to just one at a time?
  • Joyce has said on numerous occasions that she’s one of the rare and lucky writers who doesn’t suffer anxiety around writing. Why does she think this is, and does this apply to all creative endeavors? What would make her anxious?
  • As someone who could see new ways to revise a draft upon every inspection, how does she decide when enough is enough and a piece of writing is ready for prime time?
  • Why is an Oscar Wilde quote about sincerity included in Joyce’s 10 tips for writing?
  • Why does Joyce feel it’s important to write for one’s contemporaries over writing for the sake of posterity? Can Joyce recall any impediments that have stood in the way of her own ability to follow this advice?
  • If Joyce believes a writer shouldn’t try to anticipate an ideal reader, who is she writing for? How does one stay true to this sentiment when writing for a publication with a particular kind of audience?
  • What kind of writing assignments could one of Joyce’s students expect to take on? What kind of assignment might she bring out to challenge her more advanced students, and how might it differ from something she’d assign a class of younger people?
  • How much of Joyce’s own work has she discarded before sending it to an editor or just removed from circulation?
  • On productivity: what does Joyce feel is the relationship between quantity and enduring quality of one’s work?
  • Of her own prolific body of work, what might she suggest first to someone who wants to get acquainted with it? Are there any she wishes could have been released with the same high profile treatment as We Were the Mulvaneys when it was selected for Oprah’s Book Club?
  • For someone who’s already written what would take most authors several lifetimes to accomplish, what’s still on Joyce’s list?
  • A final word of advice to writers and aspiring writers, and other parting thoughts.