Suspend Your Disbelief

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How They Write

The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating look at how several writers get down to business–from writing in blue exam books to dressing in character to collage-making. Some highlights:

Orhan Pamuk:

Mr. Pamuk writes by hand, in graph-paper notebooks, filling a page with prose and leaving the adjacent page blank for revisions, which he inserts with dialogue-like balloons. He sends his notebooks to a speed typist who returns them as typed manuscripts; then he marks the pages up and sends them back to be retyped.

Kazuo Ishiguro:

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.

Michael Ondaatje:

Booker-prize winner Michael Ondaatje’s preferred medium is 8½-by-11-inch Muji brand lined notebooks. He completes the first three or four drafts by hand, sometimes literally cutting and pasting passages and whole chapters with scissors and tape. Some of his notebooks have pages with four layers underneath.

Dan Chaon:

Dan Chaon writes a first draft on color-coded note cards he buys at Office Max. Ideas for his books come to him as images and phrases rather than plots, characters or settings, he says. […] During the early stages of writing, he carries a pocketful of cards with him wherever he goes; as they accumulate, he stores them in a card catalogue that he bought at a library sale.

Edwidge Danticat:

She writes first drafts in flimsy blue exam notebooks that she orders from an online office supply store. She often uses 100 exam books for a draft. “The company I order from must think I’m a high school,” she said.

FWR readers, what’s your writing process? Do you have a special font size, pen type, paper source, or ritual?

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