Over at Kickstarter, I wrote up a few things I learned while writing Annabel Scheme. I will also use this as an excuse to link to this great WSJ round-up of writers’ habits. Nicholson Baker’s routine is almost mystical:
Most days, Nicholson Baker rises at 4 a.m. to write at his home in South Berwick, Maine. Leaving the lights off, he sets his laptop screen to black and the text to gray, so that the darkness is uninterrupted. After a couple of hours of writing in what he calls a dreamlike state, he goes back to bed, then rises at 8:30 to edit his work.
Black screen, gray text! Stay in the dream! Actually, all of Baker’s methods are totally inventive and awesome:
He wrote his first novel, “The Mezzanine,” by dictating to a voice recorder during his commute to work. 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.
You know, there’s a surprising amount of voice and transcription in these snippets. For instance, Richard Powers
[…] wrote his last three novels while lying in bed, speaking to a lap-top computer with voice-recognition software.
I need to try this… because it sounds like torture. I think I write very graphically—I think about how words appear, how they’re laid out. Often I’ll consider a sentence and realize the problem is that it just doesn’t look right.
Partially it’s habit, but partially it’s a deeper conviction about how words work on the page. Yeah sure, the natural rhythm of the human voice is great—but when we read, we don’t speak the words in our head. (Most of us don’t.) Words on the page (or the screen) get processed in a different way. It’s faster, flightier, nonlinear. There’s a buffer that’s always looking ahead and looking back, trying to recognize whole chunks of language at a time. All together, it’s very different from listening to someone speak.
So, truth be told, I’m a little suspicious of the writing-by-dictation strategy. Although that doesn’t mean I’m not going to dress up as a character and give fake lectures at some point.