Scott Turow: writing advice

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POSTED: July 22, 2017

In The Guardian today, Scott Turow wrote a short essay about my writing day. In it he says that

I was taught by Wallace Stegner, while I was a graduate writing fellow at Stanford, that it’s imperative to write every day, to keep the machinery oiled, to give the Muse a chance to visit. The effect is a little like meditation, putting the would-be novel at the centre of my mind for a while.

I can attest to this. I started my diary-thing – The Time of Day – seven years ago precisely to force me to see, photograph, reflect and write every day. It has worked: whatever the quality of the results, I have found the process immensely useful. Whenever I need to do some “serious” writing, I always limber up by writing a note or two here, or going back and rereading and editing some old diary entries.

Turow divides the process of writing a novel into three distinct phases. In the first part, which he says lasts up to a year, he “wanders around inside the book”.

I make no rules about what I will write in this phase. Anything that seems like it might find its way into the novel is good enough to put on paper: a quip, an extended musing that might help define a character, the look and feeling of a place. I don’t worry about whether today’s writing follows from yesterday’s. Sequence will come later. I want to be immersed, even for nanoseconds, in the world of the novel.

In the second phase he takes all these ideas and writes a draft from start to finish, working “at the computer on weekdays from roughly 8.30am to 1.30pm, with an hour or two often stolen from other things at the weekend”.

In the third phase, he rewrites everything until he feels it says what he intends it to say. “I demolish parts of the world I imagined. I think about how every sentence, every chapter can be made shorter, more fluid. I attend to grammar and syntax. I’m unsparing with myself about exactly what a sentence means. Some days it feels like digging a ditch, more craft than art and much less play.”