The bonus book

Recently I took a step back in time and read an article on the craft of writing printed in the Paris Review. It was dated Winter 1986, and recounted an interview with E.L. Doctorow on stage in New York City in front of an audience of 500, and I wish I had been there. Doctorow started by saying that he works through six or eight drafts to complete a manuscript. However, there was one time – a miracle time – when he wrote a book in about seven months. The book was World’s Fair and he credits it to God giving him a bonus book for paying his dues over many long years. How did he decide this was a bonus book? Well, according to Doctorow, Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying in six weeks and Stendhal wrote Charterhouse of Parma in twelve days, and clearly God spoke to them because if it wasn’t God then it was crass exhibitionism. I’m certainly not at the point where I’m due a bonus book, but I like the idea that one day I might qualify. Thank you Doctorow. The entire interview is worth a read. It starts with a demonstration that fame and literal recognition aren’t necessarily hand in hand. The first questioner asks about a Vonnegut book, confusing the two authors. Awkward if you are anyone but Doctorow. As I work on my own manuscript I was particularly drawn to Doctorow’s description of his process. He types single spaced and tries to get as many words on a page as possible. To view the entire landscape, he explains. Small margins get him near 600 words and one page a day is good. Two is worrisome since it might leave him with nothing for the following day. Sage words of advice. Throughout the discussions of what he reads and what he draws experience from the thread of the joy of writing is constant. Writing is all that matters. Experience doesn’t matter. Technique, education, nothing matters except the writing. Also sage advice. Read the complete interview and the others that the Paris Review will publish on the craft of writing. That is, unless you are contemplating a graduate degree in writing. You may want to skip Doctorow’s opinion on that subject. His full interview may be found here:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *