Wednesday’s L.A. Times online contains an intriguing interview with David Mitchell, the author of the novel Cloud Atlas, which has recently received renewed attention due to its film adaptation. Mr. Mitchell’s comments are worth reading, as they illuminate some of the points I’ve been blogging about recently.
On the topic of inspiration (see my original post here), Mitchell says:
When I go to a place I get a number of free gifts. I get some good lines about the environment. If I was here for long enough, and could have a little time to walk around more thoughtfully, I’ll get five decent sentences. Or halfway decent sentences, or sentences I can make worthwhile. About the place; they’re textual photographs. I’m just in the habit of taking them. Maybe because it was a long time before I had a camera.
Do you jot them down?
Yeah. It gives you something to do in restaurants and not look like a sad sack. And also makes the staff nervous that you’re a reviewer, so they’re nice. You should try it, it works! If you get these free gifts, use them in the text, use them in the prose, use them in descriptions. Put them in and they’re lovely little things to find on the forest footpath of the story, of the book.
What’s interesting about the process that David Mitchell so clearly describes is that its both what I’ve previously called “the flash” of inspiration AND “foraging” for it. Mitchell’s habit of journalling his observations about new environments is foraging, as it requires regular effort to collect ideas, but the fact that he labels them “free gifts” indicates that he considers himself the recipient of them with little effort on his own, which is the flash variety of inspiration.
The interview includes more advice from Mr. Mitchell clarifying his writing process. Read this lovely bit about how to know when you’re done revising your novel:
My first drafts are awful messes. First drafts are to fill the reservoir, which I then go fishing in. Writing is probably one-fifth coming up with the stuff, and four-fifths self-editing again and again and again. I only know when to stop when the new revision is actually just changing it back to the penultimate revision. That’s when I know I’ve reached the end.
This timely bit of advice comes to me just after yesterday’s worries about whether I know when I’m ready to submit.
Away clouds! Now I have a bit more clarity!