Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Gay Talese: One Page a Day. That's it. Really.

Running in the Summer issue of The Paris Review is a wonderful long interview with Gay Talese about his writing process, career, influences, and thoughts on nonfiction. Here's a small sample of the exchange. It picks up with questions about Talese's spartan home office, which he calls The Bunker.

"INTERVIEWER (Kate Roiphe): Do you like that the bunker doesn’t have windows?
TALESE: Yes. There are no doors, no time. It used to be a wine cellar.
INTERVIEWER: How do you write?
TALESE: Longhand at first. Then I use the typewriter.
INTERVIEWER: You never write directly onto the computer?
TALESE: Oh no, I couldn’t do that. I want to be forced to work slowly because I don’t want to get too much on paper. By the end of the morning I might have a page, which I will pin up above my desk. After lunch, around five o’clock, I’ll go back to work for another hour or so.
INTERVIEWER: Surely there must be some days in the middle of a project, when you’re really going, that you write more than a single page.
TALESE: No, there aren’t.
INTERVIEWER: But your books are so long.
TALESE: I take a long time. I have published relatively little given how long I have been working. Over fifty-five years I’ve only written five long books, two short ones, and four collections. It’s not that many.
INTERVIEWER: Is that because you spend a lot of time editing?
TALESE: Not really. I type and I retype. When I think I’m getting close, that’s when I put it on the computer. Once it’s on the screen I make very few changes. It’s the reporting that takes so much time. "

A longer excerpt is up at The Paris Review website, and you can purchase a copy of the Summer 2009 issue here, to read the entire piece. There is also a fascinating visual here of Talese's original handwritten outline for his famous genre-defining piece of literary journalism, Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.

1 comment:

Michelle O'Neil said...


I've heard this recently by more than one older writer. They write it all out by hand. The ones who do it claim it's part of the creative process, and they are revered prolific writers, so perhaps it is just that for them, but a little part of me wonders if it is reluctance to change that makes them resist a keyboard?

Everyone has their process and knows what works for them, but
I wonder how many younger writers routinely do this, and what the expierience is for them.

My brain goes faster then my keyboard most of the time, so maybe it wold be good for me to slow the whole train down!