No rule works for everyone

«INTERVIEWER – What is your daily schedule when you work?

GÜNTER GRASS – When I’m working on the first version, I write between five and seven pages a day. For the third version, three pages a day. It’s very slow.

INTERVIEWER – You do this in the morning or in the afternoon or at night?

GÜNTER GRASS – Never, never at night. I don’t believe in writing at night because it comes too easily. When I read it in the morning it’s not good. I need daylight to begin. Between nine and ten o’clock I have a long breakfast with reading and music. After breakfast I work, and then take a break for coffee in the afternoon. I start again and finish at seven o’clock in the evening.»

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«INTERVIEWER – Is that one of the main purposes of revision, then—to take what you’ve learned from the end of the first draft and rework the earlier sections to give a certain feeling of inevitability?

HARUKI MURAKAMI – That’s right. The first draft is messy; I have to revise and revise.

INTERVIEWER – How many drafts do you generally go through?

HARUKI MURAKAMI – Four or five. I spend six months writing the first draft and then spend seven or eight months rewriting.

INTERVIEWER – That’s pretty fast.

HARUKI MURAKAMI – I’m a hard worker. I concentrate on my work very hard. So, you know, it’s easy. And I don’t do anything but write my fiction when I write.

INTERVIEWER – How is your typical workday structured?

HARUKI MURAKAMI – When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. But to hold to such repetition for so long—six months to a year—requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.»

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«INTERVIEWER – What about revision?

BILLY COLLINS – I try to write very fast. I don’t revise very much. I write the poem in one sitting. Just let it rip. It’s usually over in twenty to forty minutes. I’ll go back and tinker with a word or two, change a line for some metrical reason weeks later, but I try to get the whole thing just done. Most of these poems have a kind of rhetorical momentum. If the whole thing doesn’t come out at once, it doesn’t come out at all. I just pitch it.

INTERVIEWER – You throw it out?

BILLY COLLINS – People say, Don’t throw anything away. This is standard workshop advice: Always save everything. You could use it in another poem. I don’t believe that. I say, Get rid of it. Because if it got into a later poem it would be Scotch-taped on. It would not be part of the organic, you know, chi, the spine that the poem has, the way it all should be one continuous movement.

INTERVIEWER – What was that word you used?

BILLY COLLINS – Chi. I think they use that in feng shui. It’s the Chinese sense of energy that runs through things. Poems that lack that seem very mechanically put together, like a piece here and a part there. Because of the workshop and the M.F.A. phenomenon there’s much too much revision going on. Revision can grind a good impulse to dust. Of course, the distinction between revision and writing is kind of arbitrary because when I am writing I am obviously revising. And when I revise, I’m writing, aren’t I? I love William Matthews’s idea—he says that revision is not cleaning up after the party; revision is the party! That’s the fun of it, making it right, getting the best words in the best order.»

All interviews, Paris Review

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