I just watched an interview on BBC World with American writer Donna Tartt whose work I don’t know but must read soon. All three novels including her just released “The Goldfinch” are available on kindle and audio. Recorded books are a great help to me, as I can ‘read’ while doing other no-brain-required stuff like walking the dog or quilting. Interestingly Tartt was talking about the pre-writing stage of a book, which termed evanescent and exciting as she gathers up ideas, and consults the vast quantity of ‘notes and bobs’ she constantly puts into a note book. She always has a notebook with her to jot down ideas and observations as she experiences them. In this planning/designing phase of a book she can write absolutely anywhere including a friend’s couch, in the bath, in a public library, and on the bus. The interviewer countered that many writers would balk at writing in a public library as being too, well, public. Tartt responded that to her its wonderful, as whenever you need a character there’s a passing parade of potential to choose from to flesh out a story.
The next phase, which can last a long time is the hard work of writing the story, for which she didn’t use my term ‘hackwork’, but mentioned the hard work to be got through once her planning or designing has been done. In this phase I usually put on the headphones and listen to a recorded book or favourite. My hands are busy but my mind can be elsewhere. She talked removing an 80-page passage of writing from her recent book in this phase. The reviewer was aghast at the thought of removing 80 pages from a draft, as after all, that’s a high percentage of an average modern novel ! To Tartt a particular piece of writing had to be done, if only to then show her where she should really be heading with the work; and if it meant ditching a chunk to improve it, then so be it. I don’t often ditch large sections of quilts I’m working on, but have, and for that same reason. And occasionally a problematic work might take a spell in a cupboard, and emerging appear fresh, and redeemable. Writing a novel is not the same as planning a textile work, but there are definite strong similarities. I know people who’ve cut up sections of a larger work and presented them as small works, and I have one or two that I’m tempted to ‘reshape’ this way, being OK because its still the artist’s hand (and eye) at work.
Tartt writes her notes on paper. I’ve blogged in a long post here about my own use of a visual diary. In addition I use the notepad on my iTouch or phone for little lists, odd thoughts, snippets or ‘bobs’. And as I always have some camera or other with me – pocket-size digital, phone or iTouch – I can take a pic, each of which is worth a thousand words, they say. I just ‘read’/listened to a marvelous book “The Mobile Wave’ by Michael Saylor which I need to listen to again, as I now understand the potential of smart phones much more and need to maximize the use of the one I just acquired. I finally decided to abandon the pre-paid one that works only in Uruguay, because too many functions weren’t working well on it (um, I did drop it a few times ) And yes, I have got one of those impact absorbing cover thingies for the new one, JIC ;-p