Archives for posts with tag: writing process

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In the Spring 1960 edition of The Paris Review, novelist/essayist/memoirist Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, discussed his writing process. Excerpts from the interview, conducted by Raymond Fraser and George Wickes, are included below. Read the entire interview at theparisreview.org.

INTERVIEWER: Would you tell us something first about the way you work?

ALDOUS HUXLEY: I work regularly. I always work in the mornings, and then again a little bit before dinner. I’m not one of those who work at night. I prefer to read at night. I usually work four or five hours a day. I keep at it as long as I can, until I feel myself going stale. Sometimes, when I bog down, I start reading—fiction or psychology or history, it doesn’t much matter what—not to borrow ideas or materials, but simply to get started again. Almost anything will do the trick.

INTERVIEWER: Do you do much rewriting?

HUXLEY: Generally, I write everything many times over. All my thoughts are second thoughts. And I correct each page a great deal, or rewrite it several times as I go along.

INTERVIEWER: Do you block out chapters or plan the overall structure when you start out on a novel?

HUXLEY: No, I work away a chapter at a time, finding my way as I go. I know very dimly when I start what’s going to happen. I just have a very general idea, and then the thing develops as I write. Sometimes—it’s happened to me more than once—I will write a great deal, then find it just doesn’t work, and have to throw the whole thing away. I like to have a chapter finished before I begin on the next one. But I’m never entirely certain what’s going to happen in the next chapter until I’ve worked it out. Things come to me in driblets, and when the driblets come I have to work hard to make them into something coherent.

INTERVIEWER: Is the process pleasant or painful? 

HUXLEY: Oh, it’s not painful, though it is hard work. Writing is a very absorbing occupation and sometimes exhausting. But I’ve always considered myself very lucky to be able to make a living at something I enjoy doing. So few people can.

INTERVIEWER: Do you ever use maps or charts or diagrams to guide you in your writing?

HUXLEY: No, I don’t use anything of that sort, though I do read up a good deal on my subject. Geography books can be a great help in keeping things straight. I had no trouble finding my way around the English part of Brave New World, but I had to do an enormous amount of reading up on New Mexico, because I’d never been there. I read all sorts of Smithsonian reports on the place and then did the best I could to imagine it…

INTERVIEWER: When you start out on a novel, what sort of a general idea do you have? How did you begin Brave New World, for example?

HUXLEY: Well, that started out as a parody of H. G. Wells’s Men Like Gods, but gradually it got out of hand and turned into something quite different from what I’d originally intended. As I became more and more interested in the subject, I wandered farther and farther from my original purpose.

Painting: Aldous Huxley by Brian Ashmore, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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(Photo: Roald Dahl’s writing hut, “The Gipsy House.”)

“…there are two distinct sides to a writer of fiction. First, there is the side he displays to the public, that of an ordinary person like anyone else, a person who does ordinary things and speaks ordinary language. Second, there is the secret side, which comes out in him only after he has closed the door of his workroom and is completely alone. It is then that he slips into another world altogether, a world where his imagination takes over and he finds himself actually living in the places he is writing about at that moment. I myself, if you want to know, fall into a kind of trance, and everything around me disappears. I see only the point of my pencil moving over the paper, and quite often two hours go by as though they were a couple of seconds.” ROALD DAHL, author of James and the Giant Peach

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TRUMAN CAPOTE TALKS ABOUT HIS WRITING PROCESS: 

“I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch…I don’t use a typewriter. Not in the beginning. I write my first version in longhand (pencil). Then I do a complete revision, also in longhand. Essentially I think of myself as a stylist, and stylists can become notoriously obsessed with the placing of a comma, the weight of a semicolon. Obsessions of this sort, and the time I take over them, irritate me beyond endurance.”

The Paris Review, Issue 16, 1957