One of the most deadly criticisms of National Novel Writing Month (among others) is that it encourages people to write crap. The naysayers who think they’re doing a good thing by warning naive would-be writers away from the yearly event choose to ignore that it gives permission to write crap if the fear of doing just that is what’s been holding you back. It doesn’t insist on crap.
And when a well-known, admired, and prize-winning novelist reveals that his most famous book was written in a month — by hand — it kind of takes the wind out of the sails of anyone who insists you can’t write a good novel in a month. The first draft of The Remains of the Day was, in some ways, the pile of crap everyone fears.
“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.”
There’s a big difference, of course, between an experienced writer and someone who’s about to attempt their very first major piece of fiction. Ishiguro can write a crap first draft because he knows how to write a novel, and knows that it will go through many drafts. The novice can’t help writing a crap first draft, but it’s only the first step to something that might become many times better.
Ishiguro tells us why he spent an entire month of crash writing, and how he did it. It’s also a fascinating look into some unusual sources of inspiration that he drew on.