I recently revisited this Wall St. Journal article about writers sharing their processes — and I found it just as inspiring as when I first encountered it. It’s a great article only for the insider’s view into some of our favorite writers’ practices but for the comfort of knowing that there’s no “right way” to do things, and that the work can sometimes be a struggle for even the most successful writers.
Take Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz, who “shuts himself in the bathroom and perches on the edge of the tub with his notebook when he’s tackling a knotty passage” — or Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, who “often rewrites the first line of his novels 50 or 100 times.”
And then there’s British novelist Hilary Mantel, who writes in the morning, before before having even a sip of coffee (can you imagine?!). Russell Banks writes his novels in longhand, while Anne Rice writes on a computer in 14-point Courier.
Dan Chaon writes on color-coded note cards. Laura Lippman creates her mysteries using plot charts, index cards, sketchbook pages, colored ribbon, magic markers — and Edwidge Danticat begins her novels with collages of photos and images clipped from magazines.
And, like the rest of us, these writers don’t work without false starts. Kate Christensen was two years and 150 pages into her first novel before she started over; Junot Diaz tossed out about 600 pages before The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao finally began to come together.
What about when they’re not writing? Mantel always carries a notebook to jot down ideas, while Margaret Atwood scribbles “on napkins, restaurant menus, in the margins of newspapers.”
Sometimes when I read about writers and their rituals, I can’t help but feel as though I’m doing something wrong. For example, my schedule is such that I have no daily set writing time; I take it when I can get it. I wouldn’t dream of committing words to paper in a pre-coffee state (I need some tea, at the very least). And sometimes I write on the computer, sometimes longhand, sometimes in my head. It just depends: on time and timing, on where I am and when, and the story and how it wants to arrive in the world.
This is why I love articles like this one, showing us all the myriad ways in which writers work — they’re good reminders that what matters is not how the writing gets done but the fact that it does.