How Writers Write – With my eighth book now out on Kindle, I thought I would start a blog page and periodically share some thoughts and information on writing.
Ever since I began writing, I’ve been fascinated by the way successful writers write – – the physical and mental processes they use, where they write, how they write, when they write, and all the rest. When the better writers write, the result always looks effortless, but we know it wasn’t. Can how they do what they do give me any tips as to how to improve what I do or how I do it? Probably not, but it’s interesting to see how genius works, nonetheless.
For those who think the process is spontaneous, consider John Gardner. He hung butcher paper around the walls of his workroom from one end to the other and mapped the entire plot structure before he wrote the first word of prose.
Similarly, Ken Follett reportedly writes numerous outlines, each more detailed than the one before, until he finally hangs prose on the outline and only writes one or two drafts of the actual novel.
On the other hand, E. L. Doctorow says, “Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you are doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.”
Sidney Sheldon’s first drafts run to as many as 1500 pages. He then cuts, often hundreds of pages at a time. When he finally has a finished draft, he goes through it once more and cuts another 10% to make it read faster.
Stephen King says never look at a reference book while writing the first draft. Just write.
Trollope wrote his daily quota of 2500 words from 5:30 to 8 a.m., and then went to his day job.
Dostoyevsky wrote eight successively detailed outlines of The Idiot, but Crime and Punishment was conceived whole and intact.
Balzac wrote 8 books in 1842 alone. He went to bed at 6 p.m., got up at 1 a.m., wrote until 8 a.m., took a two-hour nap, and wrote again until 4 p.m. That’s discipline.
Thomas Mann, the early twentieth century German writer, was very tall. In that pre-electronic era, he wrote in his kitchen, longhand, standing, and using the top of his ‘icebox’ as a desk. As he finished each page, he would drop it in a cardboard box on the floor next to him. When the book was done, he closed the box and send it to his editors.
Writers write in many different ways. My all-time favorite is Dame Barbara Cartland, the prolific British writer of florid romance novels. Dressed in one of her pink, feathery, dressing gowns, she would lie on a leather ‘psychiatrist’s couch’ and simply dictate the book to her secretary who took it all down in shorthand. Amazing.
Recently I saw a photograph of Stephen King at work in his office early in his career. I find it so stunning that I have reproduced below.
First, the spaces tiny and the antique Compaq or Radio Shack word processor on his desk was crude. I had one, too. Believe me. It didn’t allow for any research or Googling, and I don’t see a reference book or even a dictionary anywhere. That tells me it was all coming straight out of his head onto the keyboard. Other than a simple telephone and perhaps two cheap printers, his work space is small and cluttered as he appears to be doing some hand-editing of a draft. Note all the papers and trash he has sitting on the baseboard electric heater running down the wall behind him. It’s amazing he didn’t burn to death, decades ago. And with the way he is sitting, I have no doubt he has a myriad of lower back issues now. But the dog’s cute.
That’s how writers write. They can be very quirky, and there’s a thousand more examples of how they do what they do. If you know of any others, leave me a comment on my webpage.
Anyway, food for thought. Writing a novel is easy. Pour in a bunch of ideas, stir vigorously and put it in a 450-degree oven for 12-24 months. That’s all there is to it. To read about my books or subscribe to the blog, go to my web site, http://box5462.temp.domains/~billbro4/