November 06, 2009

Writers on Writing

Here is an excerpt from a wonderful article that appeared recently in the Wall Street Journal. It chronicles the actual writing techniques of a number of contemporary authors - where they write, the many steps they take, how long it takes them to write a novel. I find it fascinating to learn the actual day-to-day of so many contemporary writers (Margaret Atwood, Junot Diaz, and Hilary Mantel, to name a few), and to see how different each writer's technique is from the others. Because of my love for Kazuo Ishiguro, I included the article's look at his writing:

From the time he was a teenager until his mid-20s, novelist Kazuo Ishiguro tried, unsuccessfully, to make it as a songwriter. His early career helped him to develop his style of spare, first-person narration where the narrator seems to know more than he or she lets on at first.

Mr. Ishiguro, author of six novels, including the Booker-prize winning "Remains of the Day,"typically spends two years researching a novel and a year writing it. Since his novels are written in the first person, the voice is crucial, so he "auditions" narrators by writing a few chapters from different characters' points of view. Before he begins a draft, he compiles folders of notes and flow charts that lay out not just the plot but also more subtle aspects of the narrative, such as a character's emotions or memories.

Obsessive preparation "gives me the opportunity to have my narrators suppress meaning and evade meaning when they say one thing and mean something else," says Mr. Ishiguro.

He collects his notes in binders and writes a first draft by hand. He edits with a pencil, then types the revised version into a computer, where he further refines it, sometimes deleting chunks as large as 100 pages.

In spite of all the groundwork, some novels fail to come together, including one that took place in medieval Britain. "I showed my wife a segment that I had honed down and she said, "This is awful. You have to figure out how they speak to each other. They're speaking in a moron language," he says.

You can read the rest of the article here.

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