26 March 2011

Writer at work

Terrific insight from Michael Frayn, a writer I very much admire:
Q. Where do your ideas come from?

A. Ideas for things come into one's head, or bits of ideas; you feel there's something – there's some meat on the bone, there's something there that lures you on. The more you think about it the more you're led into this new world and the more of that world you see. And part of having an idea is having some notion of how you would tell the story. It's not just thinking it would be nice to write something about the Crimean war, it's having some particular way in mind of writing something about the Crimean war, and the idea for the way to tell the story helps you to see what the story is. The story suggests the means, the means suggests the story; it's mutually dependent. And you don't have very much choice in the matter. Ideas come, characters suggest themselves, and the nature of the story and the nature of the characters dictates how it's going to be done.
I suppose if people are not writers or painters or whatever they see the life of the artist as being one of great freedom, but it's not really; it's as constrained as anyone else's by the material that's available. The thing seems to have some kind of reality in one's head; it seems to be something that one is discovering, rather than inventing. I see that as a kind of psychological trick on oneself, because the whole point about fiction is that it's invention. It doesn't really seem like it at the time – it seems as if you are slowly discovering something that already exists and seeing how the different parts of it relate to each other.
Q. Do you have a routine? What tools do you use?

A. It's very difficult when each day you start with a sort of cold brain and nothing happens. In my case I look back over what I was doing the day before and make a few small corrections, often to typing errors, then maybe a few grammatical errors, and then I see a better way of putting something, and gradually you get drawn into the world you've created and you start rewriting what you did the day before and gradually coming up to the point where you left it the day before and going on. And certainly at the end of each day's work I try – when my brain is hot and stuff is happening, but when I'm really too tired to go on – to make hasty notes and write down bits and pieces of what's going to come, anything that's already in one's head, sort of scatter it down on the page so that when you start the next day you've got some stuff there to work on.
Q. What sort of a relationship exists between writers and the people they create on the page?

A. Well, you do get very obsessed with them. You can't help thinking about them a lot. However much you think in advance, however much you plan, the events will get changed as you come to them and work on them. And the events are the characters, the characters are the events. So they are in flux. It's not like thinking about friends, or people one knows, whose lives are not under one's control. With characters, you are actually creating their lives with them. It does seem – and I realise this is a psychological trick and it sounds very coy – but it is as if they are speaking and leading those lives. It's a very symbiotic relationship. You do seem to be with people who have minds of their own, thoughts of their own, but at the same time you're very much involved in leading their lives with them.
His is just one interview: you can read the others here (Guardian UK).

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