On Daily Routines, we profile successful leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, executives and athletes to explore their routines, schedules, habits and day in the life.
Following the success of his second novel, An Artist of the Floating World, Japanese-born, British author Kazuo Ishiguro had a big problem on his hands — there were too many distractions going on in his life now and he didn’t have time to write his follow-up work.
In between the novel being shortlisted for the 1986 Booker Prize and winning the Whitbread Book of the Year Award, it seemed like everyone in the literary world wanted a piece of Ishiguro’s time and attention.
“Potentially career-enhancing proposals, dinner and party invitations, alluring foreign trips and mountains of mail had all but put an end to my ‘proper’ work,” he wrote in The Guardian. “I’d written an opening chapter to a new novel the previous summer, but now, almost a year later, I was no further forward.”
So Ishiguro and his wife, Lorna, devised a plan. Over the next four weeks, the author would clear his diary and do nothing but write six days a week, Monday through Saturday, from 9am to 10.30pm. Ishiguro would get a few hours to himself for lunch and dinner, but there was no answering any mail or using the phone.
“No one would come to the house,” he said. “Lorna, despite her own busy schedule, would for this period do my share of the cooking and housework. In this way, so we hoped, I’d not only complete more work quantitatively, but reach a mental state in which my fictional world was more real to me than the actual one.”
Ishiguro named this period of his life “The Crash” and he credits writing the majority of his 1989 novel, The Remains of the Day, to those four weeks — “At the end of it I had more or less the entire novel down: though of course a lot more time would be required to write it all up properly, the vital imaginative breakthroughs had all come during the Crash.”
Winning the prestigious Booker Prize that same year, The Remains of the Day would go on to become one of the most celebrated British literary works. The novel was also adapted into a 1993 film of the same name, starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, and was nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Throughout the Crash, I wrote free-hand, not caring about the style or if something I wrote in the afternoon contradicted something I’d established in the story that morning. The priority was simply to get the ideas surfacing and growing. Awful sentences, hideous dialogue, scenes that went nowhere – I let them remain and ploughed on.Kazuo Ishiguro: how I wrote The Remains of the Day in four weeks | The Guardian
Kazuo Ishiguro’s writing routine
Since publishing The Remains of the Day the Nobel Prize-winning author has maintained a more regular, less extreme writing schedule. In a 2008 interview with The Paris Review, Ishiguro said he typically writes from 10am to 6pm, and tries not to check his emails or phone until at least 4pm.
I have two desks. One has a writing slope and the other has a computer on it. The computer dates from 1996. It’s not connected to the Internet. I prefer to work by pen on my writing slope for the initial drafts. I want it to be more or less illegible to anyone apart from myself. The rough draft is a big mess. I pay no attention to anything to do with style or coherence. I just need to get everything down on paper. If I’m suddenly struck by a new idea that doesn’t fit with what’s gone before, I’ll still put it in. I just make a note to go back and sort it all out later. Then I plan the whole thing out from that. I number sections and move them around. By the time I write my next draft, I have a clearer idea of where I’m going. This time round, I write much more carefully.Kazuo Ishiguro, The Art of Fiction No. 196 | The Paris Review
Ishiguro doesn’t write every day, but when he does, he aims for 5-6 pages per day — any more than that and he feels the quality of his writing becomes substandard. “It’s like a jazz musician who gets the best music out and then pulls out,” he explained during a Masterclass session with fellow author Richard Beard. “There’s always something else productive or administrative to be done.”
When it comes to starting a new project, Ishiguro prefers to distinctly separate the planning and writing stages. “It’s really when I’m planning the project that I actively look for ideas and read very widely,” he said in an Electric Literature interview. “I’ve always needed to know quite a lot about the story before I start to write the actual prose. I’ve always needed a solid idea before getting started.”
As one of the most successful contemporary fiction authors, Ishiguro has gone on his fair share of global book tours, and unsurprisingly, he’s no big fan of them. Outside of the obvious demand on his time, the act of regularly discussing his work with readers has impacted on his writing process in a more profound way.
I’m not just talking about the busyness of the tour. It’s a process by which, whether you like it or not, you’re made very aware of why you write and how you write, who your influences are and where you fit in vis-a-vis other authors. How your personal life fits into what you write. That’s a good thing in many ways. It’s very good that you’re sensitive to your audience. But nevertheless it has an effect and it probably does change the way you write. You become a much more self-conscious writer. The next time you go home and write in your study you can’t forget all these questions, all these probings, all these suggestions about why you write, what you should be writing next, what you shouldn’t have written before, how certain things link up.Interview – Kazuo Ishiguro | January Magazine
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