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Ian McEwan On His Writing Process

I love hearing about the writing process of successful novelists. It makes me realize that these people are just like me–they’ve figured out there is no set formula on writing and they do what works for them.

With that in mind, I thought this excerpt from an interview with Atonement author Ian McEwan is worth your time. Some of my takeaways are below the video:

  • McEwan has a lot of big stuff. A giant office, giant library with tons of books, giant computer screen. Must be nice to write with all that big stuff around him.
  • McEwan typically writes 500-800 words between 9:30 and lunch time. We’ll call that three hours. That makes me feel better, as I’ve always pictured novelists cranking out thousands and thousands of words a day. McEwan seems to be a little more deliberative, like me.
  • He reads after lunch every day. And as he points out, reading isn’t “doing nothing.” Reading is an activity. It requires thought and effort. It makes you smarter. Make time to read.
  • Food and wine after 7:30 p.m. I’m not sure what this has to do with the writing process, but, hey, I like it. I think the point is that you have to get away from writing at some point during your day. You need a mental break. Dinner and a little wine is perfect for that.

Anyway, I thought that’s some great insight into the world of an award-winning author.

What’s your writing process look like?

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

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20 Comments Post a comment
  1. This sounds sane and doable. I am trying to write a children’s book at the moment, and the aim is for 1000 words a go (ie a chapter). I am struggling with this though and am writing perhaps two or three times a week at the most. I do like the wine and food suggestion – as you say, a break is good, gives us perspective (and sometimes with me, gives me inspiration, or at least reduces the fear of what’s going onto my screen!). Thanks for sharing.

    Like

    September 20, 2012
    • I like the idea that he spends a lot of time reading as well. He considers that part of the process.

      Liked by 1 person

      September 20, 2012
      • I’ve been reading a critical theory book for my MA in children’s lit and the author stresses the importance of being an active reader and seeing the process as a participative activity. I like that too!

        Liked by 1 person

        September 20, 2012
  2. I’m not a morning person at all, and if I don’t have an early class (thankfully I don’t for this semester!) or extra chores or errands to do, I need my mornings to be slow and easy. I catch up on my reading – both book and blog – linger over coffee, do a little puttering or school work. Afternoons are for errands and teaching.

    I do my best writing in the evening, and that’s when I usually sit down to actually get some words out. I can plan the sucker all day long, but it seems like the sun has to go down for me to be able to form actual sentences and paragraphs. I don’t write fiction, so that might go slower for me, but I generally do more than 1,000 words at a pop. But that’s usually because I have spent the entire day mulling over organization or development of whatever it is I want to write, so when nighttime comes, the words just sort of spill out. When they don’t, then I know I need more mulling and research.

    I wrote a piece about my night-owl writing as a guest blogger about a year or so ago: http://wordbitches.com/2011/07/11/staying-up-all-night/

    Like

    September 20, 2012
  3. Reblogged this on DarkBrightly and commented:
    Love this post. I’m not published, but I know my writing doesn’t follow a set formula. I’m also much more deliberative than some – I’m definitely not a fast writer. I participate in National Novel Writing Month to help kick myself into gear, but I don’t expect to actually win it. I think (I could be delusional) that my first drafts are fairly clean. Even revising years later, I may add things, add whole scenes to give more detail, more characterization, more flow, more whatever, but I rarely delete. The first draft is so spare and bare-bones there isn’t much to delete… it’s a frame on which to hang more details later, if necessary.

    Like

    September 20, 2012
  4. just two things to say. First one is, thank you for posting this! I found it to be very inspiring! Secondly, his routine makes me jealous. I hope I can live (almost) like that sometime!

    Like

    September 20, 2012
  5. I sure wish everyone in my house would not ask a zillion questions when I’m reading. I like how he is not appologetic about all of his time management. I need to adopt his professionalism.

    Like

    September 20, 2012
  6. thestoryofmoney123 #

    you have cracked me up with your observation that ian mcewan has lots of big stuff. he does! sounds like he has lots of big stuff. maybe this is why i can’t get my writing to congeal into anything worthwhile. must re-target my goals.

    thanks for sharing this. have enjoyed learning more about ian mcewan.

    Like

    September 20, 2012
  7. dste #

    I love his comparison of reading a book to playing tennis. I’ve found the exact same thing while reading a book; people always seem to think that you would rather talk to them, and if you tell them differently they think you’re antisocial or something. I also think that reading is a very important part of being a writer.

    Personally I’m still searching for the writing process that works best for me. When I’m not at school, I usually prefer to write at night, but that doesn’t work when homework comes first and you’re worried about getting enough sleep before your 9:00 class. I’m sure published authors like McEwan have it down, though.

    Like

    September 20, 2012
  8. Jillian ♣ #

    Thank you for sharing!!! 😀

    Like

    September 20, 2012
  9. When I’m writing short stories, I do them all one-shot. Edit later. I don’t do anything else while writing. No snacking, no listening to music… Nothing.
    Novels? Much different. Snacks, snack, snacks! Coca-Cola. Tea. Still no music. No noise is preferred. I go at it harrrd for shorter periods of time when it’s not flowing. I’m satisfied with 30 minutes of non-stop writing. When it’s flowing, I just go until I reach a stopping point, or I must eat/shower/go out. When there is a lot going on, I just don’t write. I can’t be disturbed. No interruptions. I gotta get into the flow.

    Like

    September 20, 2012
  10. Cee #

    This is quite an interesting post. I’m not a writer (yet), more of a reader… But I hope someday I can be one. So far, Im only doing the reading everyday part. 🙂

    Like

    September 20, 2012
  11. Love that he dedicates quality time to reading as well. I totally believe reading informs our writing and improves vocabulary and keeps that part of the brain in good creative form. 🙂 Great post.

    Like

    September 21, 2012
  12. I would love to have this as my daily routine.

    Like

    September 21, 2012
    • Seriously. All that nice stuff would probably help the creativity.

      Like

      September 21, 2012
  13. V.T #

    Reblogged this on Thính Vũ and commented:
    One of my favourite authors, although I haven’t read much of him. I like his daily activity, really make me feel better.

    Like

    September 21, 2012
  14. What a great interview. McEwan is a very spare writer, so it’s interesting that his writing speed seems to reflect that – a little like Hemingway, who famously once spent a whole day rewriting one sentence! With regards to regular reading, I vividly remember this being imprinted on my brain whilst reading Stephen King’s fantastic ‘On Writing’ – in which he said (in paraphrase) that you can’t write if you don’t read, because how else do you know how to write? In terms of routine – this is something I really do struggle with, and partly why I started my blog, in order to get myself more disciplined and into regular practice! Thanks for sharing.

    Like

    September 25, 2012

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