Sunday, May 08, 2016

Ian Rankin: ‘Solitude, coffee, music: 27 days later I have a first draft’

Nothing happens until he has a title and when he hits a wall he goes for a walk – the Rebus author on the way he works 

Saturday 7 May 2016 - The Guardian
There is no such thing as a “typical” day, even when I’m busy on a book. Some days the words flow, others feel like wading through suet. The phone rings, the doorbell sounds, there’s shopping to be done or an urgent email demanding a reply. That’s why I try to get away. I’ve got a house on the north-east coast of Scotland, three and a half hours by car from Edinburgh. Very limited mobile phone signal and no TV. There’s a landline but I haven’t given the number to my agent, publisher or any journalist. Perfect. I’m in the middle of a new book right now. It’s going pretty well. 

The first draft took me 27 writing days. It’s rough – really just me checking the plot works. The second draft sees me polish the prose, fix faults in chronology and geography, and add meat to the bones of my characters. So while my first drafts are usually done at a gallop – if I’m writing quickly, then the story will also have pace – I take things more slowly in the second and third drafts. The third draft is normally what my publisher and agent get to see.A good writing day would comprise maybe 10 pages, which is around 3,000 words. I don’t do a word count. 

The story is as long as it needs to be, and better to pen 1,500 great words than 5,000 ordinary ones. The day might start at 11am, or 2 in the afternoon, or 7 in the evening. Two things always take precedence: newspaper and crossword. Oh, and strong coffee. I don’t smoke and used to be a demon for pause-filler chocolate bars, but I am kicking that habit. I break now for tea (or more coffee) and stare at the kettle as I ponder the next few lines of the book. When I go up north, I write in a room at the top of the house. If it’s cold, I’ll light the wood-burner. When the sun’s out, I often go for a walk and do my writing in the late afternoon or evening. When I hit a wall or a problem, a walk often brings sudden illumination. Or else I phone my wife and talk it through with her – she reads a lot of fiction and has helped me on many occasions.   MORE

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