Alan Hollinghurst “writes… ‘at walking pace,’ a rate of 300 to 400 words a day, or perhaps none. His close friend Andrew Motion remarks: ‘I sometimes ask him, “What have you been doing today?” and he says, “thinking.” ’ ” Yet “ typical day will find him unplugging the telephone at 8:00 A.M. and working, undistracted, until 6:00.”
When was the last day in which it took you ten hours to write 300 words? (I assume you’re not a quadriplegic using a mouthstick and some primitive contraption without word prediction. Even they can manage a couple of thousand.)
I had the plan to write an expiatory post about my colossally unproductive year. Then I reread previous postings about procrastination and decided you surely had to know that much about me already.
Against all odds, I have somehow managed to corral enough concentration together to read Richard Canning’s pretentious, ill-titled, and informative pair of books of interviews with gay authors, Gay Fiction Speaks and Hear Us Out. The former is strewn with copy errors (my favourite is Brontë’’s), and is “fiction speaks” some kind of noun phrase there? Plus Canning gives us the first-ever drinking game for queer-lit straightedgers: Down a shot of cranberry juice (not cocktail) every time he introduces a new subject with “Now, a leap.”
In any event, in the books, authors are commonly asked to explain how they do their work.
- (Inevitably) Alan Hollinghurst
The Swimming-Pool Library I actually wrote in a desk diary. It was a leap year, so it had 366 pages of manuscript. I had 12 chapters, each of which ended at the end of the month. So that book had a finite length before I even started writing.
- Dale Peck
I’m always terrified I’m not writing anything. With Now It’s Time to Say Goodbye, I wrote 1,100 pages in 11 months. I thought I wasn’t writing a damn thing. Every minute I didn’t spend with my pen pressed to the paper would magnify in my mind to weeks, months, years. I thought I was wasting my life, my youth, my productive years. That’s a great trick to keep you writing. Unfortunately, I have a more rational perspective now. I realize I write a lot more than most. […] I tend to work every day. The weekend’s no different.
- Gary Indiana
You live a long time while you’re writing a novel, so you get the benefit of all the things that happen to you while you’re writing. That’s why I don’t believe in writing a book every year. People who do that tend not to really live anything. They don’t have lives; they’re writing all the time…. I’ve written almost nothing in the past year . […] I’m always trying to figure out different ways to work. I’m not very successful.
Nobody agrees on a system. Not a lot of this is helping me. Nothing I tell myself about my slow pace ever does.