December 04, 2008

How do you write?

I borrowed this from Bibliorgy (I hope they don’t mind…)

How Writers Write

J.G. Ballard writes in longhand, then types everything up on an electric typewriter.

Christy Brown wrote with his left foot.

Richard Burton, while in India, sometimes wrote under a table draped in wet cloths, to keep cool.

Lawrence Durrell usually used a typewriter, but started writing Justine in longhand so as not to wake his sleeping daughter in the early mornings.

William Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying on an upturned wheelbarrow while on duty as a postal worker.

Ernest Hemingway, in Cuba, wrote while standing. He wrote longhand in pencil, or on a typewriter when dialogue was flowing.

Kazuo Ishiguro writes in pen in notebooks. He writes his books fairly quickly, after a year or two of research and trying out voices.

Jack Kerouac typed On the Road on a 120-foot scroll of taped-together tracing paper over a fortnight. Contrary to legend, his writing spree was fueled only by coffee.

Ursula K. Le Guin uses an old word processor.

C.S. Lewis wrote on huge sheets of paper (each Narnia book took up only thirty sheets or so), while standing.

Cormac McCarthy writes on an Olympus typewriter.

Vladimir Nabokov wrote on index cards, sometimes in cars.

Marcel Proust wrote in a cork-lined bedroom.

Philip Roth writes at a lectern in a sparely furnished room.

Leo Tolstoy's wife transcribed everything he wrote.

Anthony Trollope wrote with a watch beside him, turning out a page every fifteen minutes.

Robert Walser, in mid-career, started writing so small that scholars at first thought his texts were in code. One later novel filled just 24 octavo sheets.

(Stone-Age Laptop!)

In primary school I wrote with a steel-nibbed pen, dipped in an inkwell. High school saw the advent of ball point pens. At home I typed my angst-ridden teenage poetry on a huge, cast iron Demountable typewriter which weighed as much as a VW engine block. I was then given a small Remington portable, which I still have.

My first script was written longhand in notepads – the pages were then sliced up and taped together in the right order and typed up on a purloined IBM Selectric II, the best electric typewriter ever made. (This took two days, fuelled by gallons of coffee. I didn’t sleep right for a week.)

As a demi-semi-professional script assessor, I still prefer to write notes as I read – the only problem is that my handwriting is so abysmal that I sometimes have trouble deciphering my own notes.

Now, like most people, I sit at a computer and… often, nothing happens. I’ve found that the best way to put a story together is to go for a long walk and talk to myself, working out the story structure and characters by way of acting it out. Yes, I get some strange looks, especially from dogs. When I get home I sit down and try to get it all down before the aging brain loses its grip and everything fades away.


  1. Hi Ian,

    I read this with interest. You should start this as a thread on CB.

    I personally find that once I have an idea, I have to work it around in my head for a while - in the car, walking to tow on my lunch break, brushing my teeth or whatever. Any quiet moment is consumed by the story. I then tend to write these weird hand written notes which are just one or two words separated with full stops. So for R7 of the flash league it goes a little like this:


    I always write in capitals as well! Once I've worked this all out, I then hit the library at work and hammer away on the laptop for a couple of drafts.

    Definitely post this at CB I'd love to know what every one else does.


  2. Thanks Rich - yes, I'll do that. I've been toying with the idea of geting a little MP3 recorder too. Then I'll have to try to bribe my wife "who's a brilliant typist, unlike me!) to type it all up.