Literary Arts

When the Tortoise and Then the Hare Sit Down to Write

When it comes to writing novels, I am tortoise. At least with the first half, and there is something thrilling about the second half, like sliding down a long snowy hill, or as in below, leaping off the top step. I am still the tortoise right now. 

Guillaume Ospital

For assistance, I return to a 1968 Paris Review interview with the great Canadian author Robertson Davies where he describes his writing process, a laborious and methodical investigation long before the narrative is written. 

"I am at the moment winding up to write another novel, and when I say “winding up” I mean I am making notes and plans and perpetually building up what I will eventually write; that is the way I work. I make very, very careful plans and a great many notes—so many notes indeed that sometimes they are as long or longer than the eventual book. And sketches of characters and suggestions and references to things that will be useful. All that takes a long time. Getting to work on a new novel is a dismal business, for the beginnings never seem to get any easier with the passing of time. I toil like a swimmer who feels himself about to sink beneath the waves at any moment. Like all my novels, this one began with quite a simple idea, but as I work on it a mass of complexities assert themselves, and I have to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by extraneous detail. But then—at least the way I work—when you begin to write, you can write quite briskly because you have done all the preparatory work beforehand. I hope it turns out well. But with novels, like cakes, you never know. Even when I finish a book, I’m never sure whether it is good or rubbish."

So, I will making furious notes, plotting, character studies, and the rest -- and I pray the cake will hold. And that will be good. And can I just add, that I love even more that Davies used a food analogy -- another habit of my family when talking about literature that is close to my heart. 

The wonderful illustration is by Guillaume Ospital and you can more of his terrific work at Cake or Death website. 


June 23, 2019

Midori Snyder

  • Midori Snyder is the author of nine books for children and adults, published in English, French, Dutch, and Italian. She won the Mythopoeic Award for The Innamorati, a novel inspired by early Roman myth and the Italian "Commedia dell'Arte" tradition....more

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