“I don’t begin a novel with a shopping list – the novel becomes my shopping list as I write it.”
From Conversations with William Gibson edited by Patrick A. Smith. While I love this quote, this particular interview conducted in 2011 by David Wallace-Wells is excellent as a whole. An extended version of the exchange is below but you can read the whole thing over on The Paris Review, “William Gibson, The Art of Fiction No. 211.” (Paywall.)
David Wallace-Wells: How do you begin a novel?
Gibson: I have to write an opening sentence. I think with one exception I’ve never changed an opening sentence after a book was completed.
David Wallace-Wells: You won’t have planned beyond that one sentence?
Gibson: No. I don’t begin a novel with a shopping list—the novel becomes, shopping list as I write it. It’s like that joke about the violin maker who was asked how he made a violin and answered that he started with a piece of wood and removed everything that wasn’t a violin. That’s what I do when I’m writing a novel, except somehow I’m simultaneously generating the wood as I’m carving it.
E. M. Forster’s idea has always stuck with me—that a writer who’s fully in control of the characters hasn’t even started to do the work. I’ve never had any direct fictional input, that I know of, from dreams, but when I’m working optimally I’m the equivalent of an ongoing lucid dream. That gives me my story, but it also leaves me devoid of much theoretical or philosophical rationale for why Me story winds up as it does on the page. The sort of narratives I don’t trust, as a reader, smell of homework.
FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Images
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“My life is very ordinary, common place, middle class, quiet and hard-working. I enjoy it immensely. I do not find it appropriate to talk about it very much.”
The schedule of famous writers and creators has always been a fascination of mine, and I know I’m not alone. Despite what social media tells you, there’s no right or wrong way to create. What works for one person won’t always work for someone else. Glean what you can. Reject what doesn’t work. Part of creating is learning what works for you. Be kind and humble enough to let others follow their own path.
All that said, I find Ursula K. Le Guin’s writing process relatable, delightful, and somewhat enviable—well, except for that 5:30 AM wake-up. (Who does that?) While Le Guin’s ideal schedule is nothing compared to the alleged Hunter S. Thompson routine, you never know what happens after 8:00 PM, for all we know “middle-aged Portland housewives” go hard.
It’s easy to see the appeal. I too am a fan of thinking in bed, breakfast foods, reading, and taking time to be stupid. (The graphic above omits her 10 PM bedtime, for some reason. So it’s only two hours of stupidity despite what we all hoped.)
Le Guin’s schedule originally appeared in a 1988 interview with Slawek Wojtowicz (you can read the full transcript and see a scanned image of her response at the link—it includes some wonderful handwritten notes as well) and more recently in Ursula K. Le Guin: The Last Interview. Want more? I’d encourage you to check out Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin, a phenomenal documentary from Arwen Curry.
“Forget talent. If you have it, fine. Use it. If you don’t have it, it doesn’t matter. As habit is more dependable than inspiration, continued learning is more dependable than talent.”
—Octavia E. Butler
Back around the beginning of the year, I shared a quote from Butler that’s quite similar to this one, but instead of talent, that previous quote focused on inspiration. The reason they sound so similar is that they’re both are taken from the same essay on writing advice: Furor Scribendi.
The essay was initially published in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future, Volume IX but luckily you can find a reprinting of in her collection Bloodchild: And Other Stories which I’d recommend for the titular story alone.
Today Boing Boing shared this great interview/documentary with Roald Dahl from 1982—one where he gives a little tour of his writing “hut,” shares insight into his interests, and talks about his daily routine. After watching, I knew I had to share it here as well. I’ve always been fascinated by other writer’s spaces and routines I think where and how we work—be it a shed, a hut, a home office, a coffee shop, or a nook—says a lot about us as creators.
If you want to know more about Dahl’s hut, there’s a great article from the BBC that details it even further. Apparently, it was inspired by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’ own space which is also detailed in the piece. It’s worth checking out.
Dahl’s hut is now apart of the Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden, England.
“First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.”
—Octavia E. Butler
Hey, I’m back! I’ll have a trip report coming soon, along with more Raunch Reviews and a few new brush sets for your fantasy maps. Oh, and I’m still plugging away at Gleam Upon the Waves. I think you’re going to like it.
“Make something bad then criticize it until it’s good.”
I thought Mr. Harmon had good insights on habits, taking ourselves too seriously, writing, and procrastination. Perhaps you will as well. This clip is taken from Episode 12 of the Dumb People Town podcast. [!] Warning: NSFW language.