Tag Archives: novelist

F. Scott Fitzgerald …

F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) was an American writer, whose works illustrate the Jazz Age. While he achieved limited success in his lifetime, he is now widely regarded as one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century. Fitzgerald is considered a member of the “Lost Generation” of the 1920s. He finished four novels: This Side of ParadiseThe Beautiful and DamnedThe Great Gatsby, and Tender Is the Night. A fifth, unfinished novel, The Last Tycoon, was published posthumously. Fitzgerald also authored four collections of short stories, as well as 164 short stories in magazines during his lifetime.

At the onset of his literary career he was enlisted in the army and sent to a training camp at Leavenworth, Texas. This was in 1917. He was able to write a 120,000-word novel in just three months. He initially worked during evening study periods and then switched to the weekends, writing in the officer’s club from 1 pm to midnight on Saturdays and from 6 am to 6 pm on Sundays. By early 1918, he had mailed off the manuscript that would eventually become, with major revisions, This Side of Paradise.

After leaving the army, he found it more difficult sticking to a schedule. Living in Paris in 1925, he generally rose at 11 am and tried to start writing at 5 pm, working on and off until 3.30 am. In reality, though, many of his nights were spent on the town with his wife Zelda.

The real writing happened in brief bursts of concentrated activity, during which he could manage seven thousand or eight thousand words in one session. This method worked pretty well for short stories, which Fitzgerald preferred to compose in a spontaneous manner. “Stories are best written in either one jump or three, according to the length,” he once explained. “The three-jump story should be done in three successive days, then a day or so for revise and off she goes.” Novels were trickier, especially since Fitzgerald believed that alcohol was essential to his creative process. When he was working on Tender Is the Night, Fitzgerald tried to reserve a portion of each day for sober composition. But he went on regular binges and later admitted that alcohol had interfered with the novel. (Daily Rituals by Mason Currey)

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John Updike …

John Updike

John Updike – 1994. (Picture credit: Jill Krementz)

John Updike (1932-2009) was an American novelist, poet, literary critic, art critic and short story writer. He was one of only three writers to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction more than once. Updike published more than twenty novels, more than a dozen short-story collections, as well as poetry, art and literary criticism and children’s books during his career.

Hundreds of his stories, reviews, and poems appeared in The New Yorker starting in 1954. He also wrote regularly for The New York Review of Books. His most famous work is his “Rabbit” series (the novels Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit Is Rich; Rabbit at Rest; and the novella Rabbit Remembered), which chronicles the life of the middle-class everyman Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom over the course of several decades, from young adulthood to death. Both Rabbit Is Rich(1982) and Rabbit at Rest (1990) were recognized with the Pulitzer Prize.

In an interview for the Paris Review in 1967 he mentioned his fascination for the whole creative process –

The miracle of turning inklings into thoughts and thoughts into words and words into metal and print and ink never palls for me.

For much of his career he rented a small office above a restaurant in downtown Ipswich, Massachusetts, where he would write for three or four hours each morning, netting about three pages per day.

In 1978 he spoke more about his routine –

I try to write in the morning and then into the afternoon.
I’m a later riser … I rush into the office around 9:30 and try to put the creative project first. I have a late lunch, and then the rest of the day somehow gets squandered. There is a great deal of busywork to a writer’s life, as to a professor’s life, a great deal of work that matters only in that, if you don’t do it, your desk becomes very full of papers. So, there is a lot of letter answering and a certain amount of speaking, though I try to keep that at a minimum. But I’ve never been a night writer, unlike some of my colleagues, and I’ve never believed that one should wait until one is inspired because I think that the pleasures of not writing are so great that if you ever start indulging them you will never write again. So, I try to be a regular sort of fellow – much like a dentist drilling his teeth every morning – except Sunday, I don’t work on Sunday, and of course some holidays I take. A solid routine saves you from giving up.

In a further interview during 2004 he was again asked about his writing routine and whether he kept to any particular schedule.

“Since I’ve gone through some trouble not to teach and not to have any employment, I have no reason not to go to my desk after breakfast and work there until lunch, so I work three or four hours in the morning. And it’s not all covering blank paper with beautiful phrases… I begin by answering a letter or two — there’s a lot of junk in your life as a writer, most people have junk in their lives — but I try to give about three hours to the project at hand and to move it along. There’s a danger if you don’t move it steadily that you kind of forget what it’s about, so you must keep in touch with it I figure. So once embarked, yes, I do try to stick to a schedule. I’ve been maintaining this schedule off and on — well, really since I moved up to Ipswich in ’57.”

“It’s a long time to be doing one thing. I don’t know how to retire. I don’t know how to get off the horse, though. I still like to do it. I still love books coming out. I love the smell of glue and the shiny look of the jacket and the type, and to see your own scribbles turned into more or less impeccable type. It’s still a great thrill for me, so I will probably persevere a little longer, but I do think maybe the time has come for me to be a little less compulsive, and maybe (slow down) the book-a-year technique, which has been basically the way I’ve operated.”

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The best way is always to stop ….

The best way is always to stop ….

Graham Greene … the 500-a-day man

Graham Greene … the 500-a-day man

Graham Greene (1904-1991) was an English novelist and author regarded as one of the great writers of the 20th century. Combining literary acclaim with widespread popularity, Greene acquired a reputation early in his lifetime as a major writer, both of serious Catholic novels, and of thrillers. He was shortlisted, in 1967, for the Nobel Prize for Literature. Through 67 years of writings, which included over 25 novels, he explored the ambivalent moral and political issues of the modern world, often through a Catholic perspective. His most famous works include Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter and The End of the Affair which are regarded as “the gold standard” of the Catholic novel. Several works, such as The Confidential Agent, The Third Man, The Quiet American, Our Man in Havana, and The Human Factor, also show Greene’s avid interest in the workings and intrigues of international politics and espionage.

Greene became a well-travelled man and his travels led to him being recruited by MI6. He also met Pope Paul VI, Fidel Castro and was good friends with Charlie Chaplin. He died in 1991 at age 86 of leukaemia and was buried in Corseaux cemetery, Switzerland.

In his 1951 novel, The End of the Affair, Graham Greene described what was in fact his own method of working.

“Over twenty years I have probably averaged five hundred words a day for five days a week. I can produce a novel in a year, and that allows time for revision and the correction of the typescript. I have always been very methodical, and when my quota of work is done I break off, even in the middle of a scene. Every now and then during the morning’s work I count what I have done and mark off the hundreds on my manuscript. No printer need make a careful cast-off of my work, for there on the front page is marked the figure — 83,764. When I was young not even a love affair would alter my schedule. A love affair had to begin after lunch, and however late I might be in getting to bed — as long as I slept in my own bed — I would read the morning’s work over and sleep on it. … So much of a novelist’s writing, as I have said, takes place in the unconscious; in those depths the last word is written before the first word appears on paper. We remember the details of our story, we do not invent them.”

In the summer of 1950, Michael Korda, a lifelong friend of Greene and his editor at Simon & Schuster happened to witness Greene at work on The End of the Affair. That summer Korda vacationed with Greene and others aboard a yacht called Elsewhere off the coast of Antibes. Korda was sixteen at the time, Greene forty-five. Korda later described watching the famous writer at work during this cruise.

“An early riser, he appeared on deck at first light, found a seat in the shade of an awning, and took from his pocket a small black leather notebook and a black fountain pen, the top of which he unscrewed carefully. Slowly, word by word, without crossing out anything, and in neat, square handwriting, the letters so tiny and cramped that it looked as if he were attempting to write the Lord’s Prayer on the head of a pin, Graham wrote, over the next hour or so, exactly five hundred words. He counted each word according to some arcane system of his own, and then screwed the cap back onto his pen, stood up and stretched, and, turning to me, said, “That’s it, then. Shall we have breakfast?” I did not, of course, know that he was completing The End of the Affair, the controversial novel based on his own tormenting love affair, nor did I know that the manuscript would end, typically, with an exact word count (63,162) and the time he finished it (August 19th, 7:55 A.M., aboard Elsewhere).”

Greene’s self-discipline was such that, no matter what, he always stopped at five hundred words, even if it left him in the middle of a sentence. It was as if he brought to writing the precision of a watchmaker, or perhaps it was that in a life full of moral uncertainties and confusion he simply needed one area in which the rules, even if self-imposed, were absolute.

In 1953, Greene was interviewed by the Paris Review for their Art of Fction series. He was asked if he worked regular hours when writing his books.

“I used to; now I set myself a number of words. Five hundred, stepped up to seven fifty as the book gets on. I re-read the same day, again the next morning and again and again until the passage has got too far behind to matter to the bit that I am writing. Correct in type, final correction in proof.”

In 1939, with World War 2 fast approaching, Greene began to worry that he would die before he could complete what he was certain would be his greatest novel, The Power and the Glory, and that his wife and children would be left in poverty. So he set out to write another book at the same time, a thriller that he knew lacked artistry but would make him money, while he continued to grind away at his masterpiece. So he rented out a private studio and devoted his mornings to the thriller The Confidential Agent and his afternoons to The Power and the Glory. To manage the pressure of writing two books at once, he took Benzedrine tablets twice daily, one upon waking and the other at midday. As a result he was able to write two thousand words in the morning alone, as opposed to his usual five hundred. After only six weeks The Confidential Agent was completed and on its way to being published. The Power and the Glory took another four months

Greene did not keep up this productivity, or the drug use, throughout his career. As he got older, Greene found it harder to maintain his clockwork discipline. Twenty years after that summer aboard the Elsewhere, Greene gave an interview to a reporter from the New York Times. Greene was then 66.

“I hate sitting down to work. I’m plugging at a novel now which is not going easily. I’ve done about 65,000 words — there’s still another 20,000 to go. I don’t work for very long at a time — about an hour and a half. That’s all I can manage. One may come back in the evening after a good dinner, one’s had a good drink, one may add a few little bits and pieces. It gives one a sense of achievement. One’s done more than one’s thought.

There are certain writers who seem to write like one has diarrhea — men like Durrell for instance. Perhaps their bowels get looser and looser with age. I’m astonished at someone like Conrad who was able to write 12 hours on end — it’s superhuman, almost. It’s like a strain on the eyesight. I find that I have to know — even if I’m not writing it — where my character’s sitting, what his movements are. It’s this focusing, even though it’s not focusing on the page, that strains my eyes, as though I were watching something too close.

In the old days, at the beginning of a book, I’d set myself 500 words a day, but now I’d put the mark to about 300 words.
The reporter added, a little dubiously, “Did he mean that literally — a mark after every 300 words? Precisely. With an x he marks the first 300 words, 600x comes next, 900x after 900 words.”

He admitted that, where he once required five hundred words of himself each day, he was now setting the bar as low as two hundred words.

He was asked if he was “a nine-till-five man.” “No,” Greene replied. “Good heavens, I would say I was a nine-till-a-quarter-past-ten man.”

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John Cheever …

John Cheever …

John Cheever (1912-1982) was an American novelist and short story writer. He is sometimes called “the Chekhov of the suburbs”. His fiction is mostly set in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the Westchester suburbs, old New England villages based on various South Shore towns around Quincy, Massachusetts, where he was born, and Italy, especially Rome. He is now recognized as one of the most important short fiction writers of the 20th century. While Cheever is perhaps best remembered for his short stories (including “The Enormous Radio”, “Goodbye, My Brother”, “Th Five-Forty-Eight”, “The Country Husband”, and “The Swimmer”), he also wrote four novels, comprising The Wapshot Chronicle (National Book Award, 1958), The Wapshot Scandal (William Dean Howells Medal, 1965), Bullet Park (1969), Falconer (1977) and a novella Oh What a Paradise It Seems (1982).

A compilation of his short stories, The Stories of John Cheever, won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and a National Book Critics Circle Award, and its first paperback edition won a 1981 National Book Award.

“When I was younger I used to wake up at eight, work until noon, and then break, hollering with pleasure; then I’d go back to work through to five, get pissed, get laid, go to bed, and do the same thing again the next day.”

Born and raised in Quincy, Massachusetts he moved to Boston in 1932 and then on to New York. He got married in 1941 and enlisted in the Army in 1942. His first collection of short stories, The Way Some People Live, was published in 1943 to mixed reviews. After the war, Cheever moved his family to an apartment building at 400 East 59th Street, near Sutton Place, Manhattan.

During the late 1940s, John Cheever worked to an unconventional routine. In the morning he would put on his business suit, leave his apartment, and catch the lift downstairs with any commuters. Then, when they reached the ground floor, he would keep going, down to the basement, where he’d walk to his favourite storage room, strip down to his boxer shorts and spend the morning writing. At noon he put his suit back on and headed back upstairs. Lunch followed, then a leisurely afternoon.

He continued to write almost every morning for the rest of his life. As his career progressed, the writing sessions grew shorter and shorter, while cocktail hour became longer and longer. By the 1960s, his working day was usually over by 10:30 A.M.

In 1961 his family moved to a stately, stone-ended Dutch Colonal farmhouse in Ossining, on the east bank of the Hudson. He lived and wrote there until his death in 1982.

His daughter recalled where he chose to write …

“My father very purposefully never had a place to write, and he always wrote in the humblest place in the house. Sometimes, like when he was on the cover of Time,_ _he pretended he wrote in the room that we called the Boyfriend Room, because it was where my boyfriend stayed, off the kitchen. But he didn’t always write in the Boyfriend Room at all. He would take his typewriter all over. When my brother went to boarding school, he would work in his room, and when I went to college he would work in my room. I think he felt that if he settled, physically, as a writer, or if he prepared in any way for the ‘visit from the muse,’ it wouldn’t happen. At one point, famously, we were all home, so he pitched a tent on the lawn and wrote in the tent.”

John Cheever and the family’s golden retriever, Maisie, on the porch of his Ossining, New York, house, October 6, 1979. By Paul Hoseifros/The New York Times/Redux.

George Eliot …

George Eliot …

Mary Anne Evans (1819-1880); alternatively “Mary Ann” or “Marian”), known by her pen name George Eliot, was an English novelist, poet, journalist, translator and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era. She is the author of seven novels, including Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss(1860), Silas Marner (1861), Middlemarch (1871–72), and Daniel Deronda (1876), most of which are set in provincial England and known for their realism and psychological insight.

She was born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire. In 1850 she moved to London with the intent of becoming a writer. She took a job at a left-wing journal The Westminster Review, and became its assistant editor in 1851, a position she held until 1854. While continuing to contribute pieces to the Westminster Review, Evans resolved to become a novelist. She also adopted a nom-de-plume, the one for which she would become known: George Eliot. 

She used a male pen name, she said, to ensure that her works would be taken seriously. Female authors were published under their own names during Eliot’s life, but she wanted to escape the stereotype of women’s writing only lighthearted romances. She also wished to have her fiction judged separately from her already extensive and widely known work as an editor and critic. 

George Eliot’s writing desk

In 1857, when she was 37, “The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton”, the first of the Scenes of Clerical Life, was published in Blackwood’s Magazine and, along with the other Scenes, it was well received (it was published in book form early in 1858). Her first complete novel, published in 1859, was Adam Bede; it was an instant success, but it prompted intense interest in who this new author might be. 

Few people knew of George Eliot’s true identity – although Charles Dickens, leading author of the day, detected that “no man ever before had the art of making himself, mentally, so like a woman.”

Her portable writing desk

In the end, the real George Eliot stepped forward and admitted she was the author. After the success of Adam Bede, Eliot continued to write popular novels for the next fifteen years. 

Her journals record that George Eliot generally wrote in the morning. After lunch she and her partner would usually go for walks. Evenings would be for reading. When Eliot was coming towards the end of a novel then all routines would go and she would write feverishly until it was finished- often with headaches & sore eyes along the way. 

George Eliot Fellowship

Oliver Goldsmith …

Oliver Goldsmith …

Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774) was an Irish novelist, playwright and poet, who is best known for his novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1766), his pastoral poem The Deserted Village (1770), and his plays The Good-Natur’d Man (1768) and She Stoops to Conquer (1771, first performed in 1773). He is also thought to have written the classic children’s tale The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes (1765).

Portrait of Oliver Goldsmith by William Hogarth