by Jill Amadio
Taking a flight across country, from one coast to the other, isn’t a great idea during a pandemic but a family matter necessitated such a trip earlier this month (April). Snatching a couple of books to read on the plane, and my kindle, I arrived at the almost empty-airport, a ghost town, only to have two flights cancelled. I finally boarded the third, only to have my ongoing flight from Dallas to New York also cancelled. And the one after that. And the one after that. So, plenty of reading time!
Turned out I had grabbed a paperback I’d bought second-hand years ago and never got around to reading, Irving Wallace’s “The Writing of One Novel.’ It relates the all-absorbing 16 years he spent researching, traveling for settings, and finally writing his bestseller, “The Prize.” In meticulous detail Wallace describes his exhausting, frustrating, and determined journey into the background of the Nobel Prize. He interviewed dozens of judges, winners, losers, and journalists who covered the event. He kept daily journals and diaries of his efforts to get behind the politics, drama, and the decisions, all of which resulted in “The Prize” being almost non-fiction. Wallace discovered facts, regarded as explosive and titillating at the time, about all those involved over the years. Most of the characters were a combination of the real person and the author’s creativity but they were so obvious that the country of origin of the Nobel Prize, Sweden, refused to publish or distribute the book.
That aside, the tattered paperback I was reading, yellowed with age – it was published in 1951 – was the most honest and revealing of any author’s how-I-wrote-it book I have come across. It is more than a fascinating peek into Wallace’s writing process and method of research. He lays bare the heart, mind, and soul of a writer’s inner workings. Would reading this book turn off a new writer? It’s a daunting task that Wallace set for himself because he wanted to know everything, and as he dove deeper and deeper into the history of the Nobel Prize he uncovered real data that he could not resist including in his novel. Luckily today we are armchair researchers, although I find that visiting locales can’t be beat for sniffing the atmosphere.
Interestingly, Wallace’s “The Writing of One Novel” mentioned another author who wrote a tell-all of his writing process. I immediately downloaded Thomas Wolfe’s “The Story of a Novel.”
Here was no jaunty, initially-optimistic search for far-reaching knowledge about a subject, but a gloomy, negative, and painfully writing process that produced the brilliant classic, “Look Homeward, Angel.” Wolfe dredged up so many childhood and young adult personal experiences that the novel is considered practically autobiographical. His first draft was over one million words! Happily, Scribner’s genius editor, Max Perkins, sorted it all out and gave us Thomas Wolfe in all his glory. Perkins probably also heavily edited “The Story of a Novel” because Wolf admits at one point that all he did when writing it was jot down a few random notes.
Both memoirs put me in mind of Graham Greene’s despondent “The End of the Affair,” another heart-breaker that makes one wonder how much of the author’s life it reveals. Faulkner called the book “true and moving.”
So, is today the day we sit at our keyboards, “open a vein and bleed,” as Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Red Smith (probably the originator of the phrase) described authorship? Surely the metaphor gives us pause.
Frankly, I find the creative process exhilarating, even when frustrated in creating my puzzles. Do you?
Jill Amadio’s mysteries are available in paperback and kindle on amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Nook. She is also the ghostwriter of 16 memoirs and biographies, and co-author of the Rudy Vallee life story, “My Vagabond Lover.”
This article was posted for Jill Amadio by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)
7 thoughts on “Painful or Exhilarating? The Writer’s Process”
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Sounds as if you made good use of all the extra time you had flying across country! And to read about those noted authors and how they perceive the writing process is really uplifting. Thanks for sharing. And do I “open a vein and bleed”? Sometimes that seems an appropriate description!
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Thanks, Jill, for your interesting post, which gives us something to ponder other than – well, you know. I can certainly relate to the “open a vein and bleed” description of writing at times, as well as the exhilaration I feel when the words flow. As for that yellowed book, I wonder how many of us have gone searching through our bookshelves to find volumes we’d bought with every intention of reading someday. Welcome to someday!
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Fascinating to read how other writers get those thoughts and feelings onto the page. You do have to wonder how much is personal experience or even if portions are from a friend’s or family member’s life. I have definitely added parts of my life into my books and as those events become even more heart-rending, some of those might turn up here and there. Thanks for giving us a few more books to add to our “must read” list.
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Excellent post, Jill, because for me, thinking about life, events, my own life — all those go into the world of my fiction–and probably more often than I actually know. Much of what you said is very thought provoking and made me want to reflect, and I have plenty of time for that these days! (smile) My hats off to you for enduring all the “flying” stuff–and turning the time into a productive time for you on other fronts. Thanks for a your post.
What a wonderfully productive use of your flying time, Jill! And a great idea to grab one of those yellowing books that we have all intended to read ‘someday.’ I can’t wait to read Wallace’s book – think I’ll give the other one a miss! It is so good to find writing that inspires and encourages. I wonder if your writing will change with your new surroundings. Your Tosa novels clearly featured your old surroundings… Thanks for the inspiration!
Jill, I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Prize back in high school. I’m putting “The Writing of One Novel” on my TBR list. Research is always an interesting topic, but few authors can describe how they go about it. Yes, the creative process is by turns exhilarating and frustrating.