Writer’s Working Process

I am quite obsessed with reading interviews with writers. I like to hear about their working methods, how they get their ideas and their thoughts on the whole working process. A while ago my grandmother gave me a book of interviews with 12 Icelandic writers. I browse it from time to time, read a question here and there for inspiration or when I’m feeling lazy. I’ve read On Writing by Stephen King and I browse the internet regularly trying to find someone’s input. All to try to get a clearer picture of my own process.

I started writing as a teenager. I wrote my first ‘stories’ on an old typewriter. I found it fun and while it’s fun it’s an easy thing to do. I could sit for 14-16 hours just to finish a story. During the teenage years the enthusiasm came and went. I never forced myself to write I just did it when I felt like it. It was a hobby that took a lot of my time and interest although I hardly ever let anyone read anything and felt slightly ashamed of it (a matter for a whole new discussion and a feeling that seems hard to shake).

When I got the time and the chance to actually sit down and write seriously (and oh how thankful I am to him for that) the issue of working ethics started to come up. Writer’s work in solitude and they need self discipline. I soon realized that waking up in the mornings and spend 6 – 8 hours in front of the computer writing wasn’t the hard part. I found out that there were other things more difficult than actually sitting down.

Writing a larger novel is a very different work than writing a short story. My short stories kind of just appear on the page before me. I tell myself the story, which is the main reason for me to write short stories. I love the process. It’s surprising and sometimes very easy (although I have a hard-drive filled with unfinished/unfulfilled stories).

The novel was a different. The prose came out quite easily but balancing the story was difficult and being sure that everything was heading in the right direction was even more so. Plotting is hard work.

My novel is now written. I have the story as I want it and it’s all there. I am however not quite finished as I have a few final things to finish. Cut down a little in the last chapters and then final read over(s) to make sure all is right with the … world.

And it’s hard work. I’ve never been good at editing or “fixing” my own work. My short stories tend to come out as they are and get little attention after I’ve read them over once or twice. So this is a part of the work I’m still unsure of. Still learning to walk the line. And I find this to be one of the hardest things I’ve done. It’s hard to read your own text and judge if it’s good enough, line by line, sentence by sentence, page by page, chapter by chapter. It’s hard to cut out text you think is good but still needs to be cut. It’s hard to decide that certain things should be in different places. The term “killing your babies” seems fitting.

It’s hard but it’s the last part of my work and I’m not going to stumble over the finishing line. (Then the real hard part takes over. How to approach publishers? Who to approach? First steps.)

Since I started writing the novel I have written a number of short stories just to get that process done during the time when I feel stuck or find myself in a hard place. And the longer I go in the process (the writing process being finished or very very closed to finished) the more respect I get for working writer’s. Stephen King aims for 2000 words a day. Other’s aim for a certain amount of time, 5 to 6 hours seem to be popular. Some wake up every morning early and write, others write mostly when the spirit hits them, or at night. Some have the whole plot laid out for them before they start writing, other’s make it up as they go along. Halldór Laxness claimed that a writer that writers at night isn’t living up to his full potential. He was a morning writer. And I don’t find it hard to find the discipline to write but to discipline yourself when it comes to deciding what to do and how to do it is a whole other matter.

It makes me remember that even bad books were someone’s hard work.

But my book isn’t bad. My novel is good, I think so at least. I’m proud of it and I really hope that I’ll get this chance again because even if it’s hard as hell it is the most satisfying work I’ve ever done although I still have to find out if I will reap what I’ve sowed.

Interviews with Writers:

Haruki Murakami Interview
Stephen King Interview
Michael Marshall Smith Interview and another newer interview
Margret Atwood interview
Sarah Pinsborough Interview
Nick Harkaway Interview
and another newer interview
Justin Cartwright Interview

Jeff Vandermeer Interview
Banana Yoshimoto Interview

China Miéville Interview

Clive Barker Interview

Thomas Ligotti Interview
Matthew Pearl

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Thank you, fascinating insight of a novelist in waiting.

    Writers can be so different, some plan everything (J K Rowling) other say they discover the story as they go along (Stephen King, Phillip Pullman) – which I find amazing. How do they get it all to fit together?

    So, as with so many things, you study the greats and then cut your own path through.

    As a mail order copywriter I am trained in writing short 30 word bursts, I’m not sure what kind of novel I would produce. One with lots of little descriptions that make you want to buy something…

    And thanks for the links to the interviews, will be working through them.


  2. Inspiring post. Especially as I’ve been struggling with my own discipline for the past few months: To bloody hell sit down and weave the turmoils in my head into stories.


  3. SereneBabe says:

    Love it! off to share…


  4. Mae says:

    Congratulations on finishing your novel!! That’s is no easy feat. Finishing is the hardest part, in my opinion. I have mixed feelings about reading author interviews. At times, if it is done well, then it’s fascinating to delve into their minds but I think most of the time it can detract from their work. I’m more partial to interviews about author’s writing techniques or routines.


  5. I have finished my first novel as well. You might say that I thought that I finished it several times over. After attending the SFWC a week ago, I realized that my manuscript deserved yet another hard look. What is interesting about the difference between early drafts and a more polished product is how I could see how my mind worked to actually create the story and characters. This includes all the extra words, thoughts of the characters, even when those thoughts are shown by action or dialogue. It is kind of like seeing the thread and seams of a ball gown or the eggs, flour and vanilla of the cake. Now that I have eliminated the extras of showing and telling, the manuscript was born into its own self. Make any sense?



    1. Eygló Daða says:

      It’s a complicated process and I too thought I was finished several times over, in fact when I go back to the manuscript I am still finding things that could be improved but you need to say stop sometime I guess.


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