Permission to Proceed Like a Nutter, Granted

Since tossing out the better part — actually, hopefully, the worse part — of my book, I’ve been regrouping. Finally reading Gogol’s stories “The Nose” and “The Overcoat,” making a new reading list (which, holy shit, Sam Lipsyte’s The Subject Steve).

I felt guilty, though, that I wasn’t writing much. Then I remembered a WSJ piece from a few years back — “How to Write a Great Novel” — where a bunch of well-known authors talk about process. Here’s my favorite in the key of crazy, about Nicholson Baker:

For his recent novel “The Anthologist,” a first-person narrative by a frustrated poet who’s struggling to write the introduction to a new anthology, he grew out a beard to resemble his character, put on a floppy brown hat, set up a video camera on a tripod and videotaped himself giving poetry lectures. He transcribed about 40 hours worth of tape, and ended up with some 1,000 pages of notes and transcription. Creating the voice of a rambling professor “was something I had to work on a lot in order to get the feeling of being sloppy,” said Mr. Baker.

Even then, Mr. Baker decided the first draft was too orderly. So he divided the novel into numbered sections, then went to a random-number generating Web site and arranged the chunks according to the random order it gave him. It was a total mess. He had to return to the original order, although a few random bits worked. “I had to claw myself back to the old way,” he said.

What I take from this? Permission to do whatever works. And if this doesn’t resemble anyone else’s method, all the better.

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