Books Magazine

Salman Rushdie On His Writing Process

By Robert Bruce @robertbruce76

Over the years, I’ve posted many excerpts from The Paris Review’s interviews with famous authors.

I love these interviews because they not only focus on authors and their novels, but they also dig into the writing process itself. And I’ve always enjoyed reading how world-class novelists go about their jobs. It’s fascinating.

Let’s take a look at Salman Rushdie’s writing process:

INTERVIEWER

Can you talk about your procedure when you sit down at the desk?

RUSHDIE

If you read the press you might get the impression that all I ever do is go to parties. Actually, what I do for hours, every day of my life, is sit in a room by myself. When I stop for the day I always try to have some notion of where I want to pick up. If I’ve done that, then it’s a little easier to start because I know the first sentence or phrase. At least I know where in my head to go and look for it. Early on, it’s very slow and there are a lot of false starts. I’ll write a paragraph, and then the next day I’ll think, Nah, I don’t like that at all, or, I don’t know where it belongs, but it doesn’t belong here. Quite often it will take me months to get underway. When I was younger, I would write with a lot more ease than I do now, but what I wrote would require a great deal more rewriting. Now I write much more slowly and I revise a lot as I go. I find that when I’ve got a bit done, it seems to require less revision than it used to. So it’s changed. I’m just looking for something that gives me a little rush, and if I can get that, get a few hundred words down, then that’s got me through the day.

INTERVIEWER

Do you get up in the morning and start writing first thing?

RUSHDIE

Yes, absolutely. I don’t have any strange, occult practices. I just get up, go downstairs, and write. I’ve learned that I need to give it the first energy of the day, so before I read the newspaper, before I open the mail, before I phone anyone, often before I have a shower, I sit in my pajamas at the desk. I do not let myself get up until I’ve done something that I think qualifies as working. If I go out to dinner with friends, when I come home I go back to the desk before going to bed and read through what I did that day. When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is to read through what I did the day before. No matter how well you think you’ve done on a given day, there will always be something that is underimagined, some little thing that you need to add or subtract—and I must say, thank God for laptops, because it makes it a lot easier. This process of critically rereading what I did the day before is a way of getting back inside the skin of the book. But sometimes I know exactly what I want to do and I sit down and start on it. So there’s no rule.

Most authors work hard, really hard. And most of that work happens in a quiet room, by themselves, with no fanfare.

That’s what Rushdie is getting at in his first answer above. No, he’s not always at parties, and, yes, he actually spends a lot of time working on his craft.

What stands out to you about Rushdie’s writing process?

Image: Wikimedia Commons


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