Process: the writing lives of great authors

PROCESS: THE WRITING LIVES OF GREAT AUTHORS

BY SARAH STODOLA

book cover

 

I love reading about the routines and working lives of artists and writers. It’s fascinating to discover what ignites their inspirations and equally what hinders their progress. As such this book promised to be the perfect read for me.

Combining author biography with entertaining details about their writing habits, Stodola introduces us to the working person behind the famous name. The person who has devoted thousands of hours or dozens of years to researching, creating, avoiding, thinking, procrastinating and eventually writing the works that readers like us hugely admire. Her portraits of these writers at work allow us to appreciate the huge effort and often bizarre practices that propel these great minds forward to write at all costs.

A writer’s setting

Stodola’s portraits of these great writers adapting to their circumstances and working with what they have are intriguing. Franz Kafka waited until all other members of the household were asleep before he attempted to write. As a single parent, Toni Morrison chose writing over a social life to enable her to get her work written, admitting; “I don’t do any of the so-called fun things in life.” Vladimir Nabokov had an unpredictable schedule whereby he had to fit his writing around his lecturing and tennis coaching jobs. Finances meant this was the case well into his late 60s. He wrote anywhere and everywhere (sometimes even in the bath!) and often wrote on index cards finding them perfect for reorganising his plot without extensive rewrites. George Orwell was not a writer prone to invention and instead used real life experiences and work in the field – even posing as a tramp so that he could write about poverty free from the expected clichés. Following the wealth and renown that came with Animal Farm, he retreated to a Scottish island so that there he could recreate the “stark, impoverished, melancholic” conditions that he needed to write 1984.

The process

On writing itself, George Orwell wrote unceasingly despite calling the process “a horrible exhausting struggle.” David Foster Wallace is described by Stodola with “perhaps no great writer has ever been so effusive about his writer’s block.” Something that Richard Price struggled with too; “the only thing worse than writing is not writing.” He started with no plot in mind and “just goes along with something he’s interested in” saying; “the actual story can be an after-thought.” Salman Rushdie famously wrote five books during his decade in hiding. “I’ve learned I need to give it the first energy of the day, so before I read the newspaper, before I open the mail, before I phone anyone, often before I shower, I sit in my pajamas at the desk.” He then writes for four hours after which time he finds that his output “becomes mush.” Continue reading

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A roaring summer to remember

Blog - bill bryson

ONE SUMMER:  AMERICA 1927  BY BILL BRYSON

If all teachers made history as enjoyable as bestselling author Bill Bryson does here, we’d all be A+ students in the subject. In his latest fascinating book, Bryson takes us back to the hugely eventful summer of 1927 in the US. It is a thoroughly enjoyable and gripping read. So many characters and stories from just a few hot months of one year impacted on almost everything to come and ushered in the modern world we now live in.

MAY saw unprecedented nationwide interest in a sensational murder trial dubbed “the crime of the century” and the Mississippi River flooded during great storms leaving an area almost the size of Scotland underwater. Terribly, a closer count was made of livestock deaths than those of the poor (and often black) humans that perished. It was America’s most epic disaster yet, in a month when the stock market boomed and prohibition was failing badly.

Young, handsome aviator Charles Lindbergh captured the hearts of the nation and beyond when he took 33 hours to fly across the Atlantic to Paris. Safely landed, he received a heroes welcome as he would everywhere he went for years to come. Hospitals, parks and children were named after him as was a song called “Lucky Lindy” which went on to spawn the Lindy-Hop dance craze.

charles lindbergh

In JUNE arguably the first celebrity shot to fame – baseball player Babe Ruth. Rising from a difficult background to become the charismatic undisputed star of Major League baseball. 1927 was “a year that no one who knew baseball would ever forget'” writes Bryson.

babe ruth

In other news radio was the wonder of the age, New York overtook London as the world’s largest city and prohibition continued to be farcical and inept. “It made criminals of honest people and actually led to an increase in the amount of drinking in the country,” notes our author. The government even poisoned liquor – some reports claiming this act killed as many as 11,000 people in 1927 alone – all dying in agony just for having a drink!

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