Writers Are Like. . . Other Writers

John Boyne writes his first drafts very quickly.  They’re like a hundred-yard dash.  In this respect, he’s like mystery writer George Simenon, who would get checked out by his doctor, then lock himself in a room for days to knock out a novel, and then go get laid.  (Me?  I’m a fan of whatever works.)

Boyne is also like Stephen King, in that he freely admits what he is reading as he is writing.  Some of that reading is writing-related; other occurrences of it have nothing to do with anything other than the pleasure of having good sentences in  our heads.  (Which is more useful than we think.)

Boyne is correct about Somerset Maugham’s Cakes and Ale, which I read back in the 1980’s.  It would be worth re-reading now that I’m deep into middle-age, occasionally have a paternally-inherited “don’t screw with me” streak that pops up, and can willingly enjoy satire more than I used to.  Maugham was also a thoroughly-professional writer:  from 9:00 a.m. to noon each day, he went into the office and wrote, letting nothing and no one disturb him.  The rest of the time, he indulged himself with his friends.  He was both productive and financially successful, and he was not ashamed to say that he enjoyed writing “entertainments” like Cakes and Ale, and more serious works, like the novel Of Human Bondage, which is his best work.

Boyne has one other affinity with the rest of us:  he used to work a day job and write at the same time.  I gather his writing success has freed him from the necessity of holding two jobs but, as I will keep telling you, the paying job will be necessary until your real work pays off.  Most of us would agree with Boyne, too, that if we are writing, we ought to love it and accept the task as much as we can.  Everybody complains about the occasional drudgery of the work (even Boyne, probably), but he’s right:  if we don’t love at least some part of the task, we probably ought to give it up and do something else.  For myself, I love having a big idea occur to me and then sit here at the keyboard, tapping away on the keys as if they were a single chisel, trying to make the beautiful figure appear out of the rock.  That happened to me numerous times on Astroday, and I would stay up until 1:00 or 2:00 a.m. getting the essay right, but it’s also happened a lot here, too:  I can remember being deep in the zone while writing the reviews of All The Light We Cannot See, A Little Life, The House at the Edge of the World, and Men We Reaped.

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