Catching up on my stored Instapaper* articles, I found a piece describing some of the (often strange and ritualised) ways in which acclaimed writers write.
Having spent the last few months twisting around myself, trying to organise the ideas and plans for my novel without going crazy, wondering if it was normal to spend so much time planning that the actual writing of prose seems to be the thing I do least, sitting at a desk buried in layers of post-its and index cards, writing in notebooks overrun with more arrows and crossings out than words – breathe, Rhian, breathe – to read about Ishiguro’s flow-charts, Mantel’s showers and Atwood’s scribbles has reassured me that I might be sane. Or, rather, normal. For a writer. Maybe.
Sounds like I have the ‘create whichever system/state of chaos you need in order to beckon and then trap your ideas’ part of novel-writing right, so all I need to do now is try not to flinch at the prospect of getting my prose anywhere near the level of those masters.
(Um, yes. I only want to read really bad fiction at the moment, stuff that makes me feel superior. Badly punctuated, excessively descriptive, heavy on the speech tags? Bring it on! Cliched or nonsensical characters in overwrought settings? Yes please! I’ve had to put my Maggie Stiefvater* backlog to one side, as I can’t handle the prettiness right now).
The article is here, and if you enjoy reading about the writing process then I recommend the Paris Review interviews – a fascinating collection of interviews with artists and writers, in several volumes. Volume 1 is my favourite, featuring Hemingway, Capote, Dorothy Parke, Joan Didion and Kurt Vonnegut.
*Instapaper ROCKS. Especially if you’re trying to reduce your time online, but don’t want to miss out on good reading. It’s especially useful for me because it syncs with my Kindle.
When I see something online I want to read, say an article about literary agents or a blog post about female YA writers, I click to send it to Instapaper and then The Magic Instapaper Fairies compile everything I’ve saved and email me a mini-newspaper made up of them.
So, I can give myself five minutes to scan Twitter, send any interesting links to my Instapaper account, wave at my friends and then get back to what I was supposed to be doing offline. The next morning, my Kindle receives a document containing anything I tagged, and I read it on the train. I don’t find myself online for hours reading when I should be writing, but I still get to keep up with interesting articles at a time I choose. LOVE. IT.
*the beginning scene in Linger, when Isabel comes into the bookshop? It slayed me, it was written so well. So much is conveyed without ever being explicit – I had to stomp around the house, loudly Giving Up Writing, before I could pick up either the book or my writing again.