Monday, February 23, 2009

Masters Class: how Michael Lewis likes to write

I found this short interview via on a site called Daily Routines. Michael Lewis is one of my favorite book-length journalists (probably the best in the game right now) and so his style is of particular interest to me.

The most interesting single tidbit here? For me, it's the fact that he writes without his notes – "as if I were writing a novel" – and then goes back later to check his notes and ensure accuracy. This makes great intuitive sense to me, but I've never heard anybody else cop to it.

How do you begin writing?
Fitfully. I'll write something, but it won't be the beginning or the middle or the end -- I'm just getting an idea out on the page. Then, as the words accumulate, I start thinking about how they need to be organized.

What is in front of you when you begin to write?
Nothing, except for the computer screen. I write from memory, as if I were writing a novel. When I finish a day's writing I go back and check the text against my notes to make sure the facts and quotes are right, and that I haven't inadvertently made anything up. The quotes are almost always accurate because by that point I've gone over the material so many times in my head.

Is there any time of day you like to write?
I've always written best very early in the morning and very late at night. I write very little in the middle of the day. If I do any work in the middle of the day, it is editing what I've written that morning.

What would your ideal writing day look like?
Left to my own devices, with no family, I'd start writing at seven p.m. and stop at four a.m. That is the way I used to write. I liked to get ahead of everybody. I'd think to myself, "I'm starting tomorrow's workday, tonight!" Late nights are wonderfully tranquil. No phone calls, no interruptions. I like the feeling of knowing that nobody is trying to reach me.

Is there anywhere you need to be in order to write?
No, I've written in every conceivable circumstance. I like writing in my office, which is an old redwood cabin about a hundred yards from my house in Berkeley. It has a kitchen, a little bedroom, a bathroom, and a living room, which I use as as study. But I've written in awful enough situations that I know that the quality of the prose doesn't depend on the circumstance in which it is composed. I don't believe the muse visits you. I believe that you visit the muse. If you wait for that "perfect moment" you're not going to be very productive.

Robert Boynton, The New New Journalism

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