Novelist John Irving holds forth on Big Think on an array of writing issues in short videos excerpted from a long interview. He discusses his working habits—eight to nine hours a day writing in longhand in lined notebooks, seven days a week—and the deep rifts in America that trouble him. He talks about using post-it notes, the long process of revision, achieving syntactical unity throughout a long work, and the glory of the long, lavishly detailed, plotted, visual nineteenth-century novels of Dickens, Hardy, Melville, and Hawthorne. The tidbits are worth a listen.


  • Zarathustra says:

    Irving is a sentimentalist. He can aspire to the great 19th century storytellers as much as he wants, but his novels just leave a saccharine aftertaste.

  • elizabeth says:

    Not sure if you saw the recent WSJ article which detailed a number of authors’ work habits…I was struck by how many of them write their first drafts by hand. Irving is one more for the list of those who do.

  • I don’t think I did see that WSJ story, Elizabeth, but was indeed struck that Irving writes by hand. What he said about computers is exactly what Annie Dillard told NPR in an interview: they cause too much writing too fast. My problem with writing by hand is that it’s kind of painful for me, especially after too much note-taking as a journalist for a dozen years. And I suppose that the ease of the keyboard encourages me. But I may just give handwriting another try. I think there is a different connection with the prose which must be real and felt to some degree by readers.

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