Author Chats: Julian Barnes


I took Ethan Rutherford’s advice and started reading interviews and posts on The Paris Review. One of the interviews I came across was conducted in 2000 and featured author Julian Barnes. Barnes has won the Man Booker Prize once, been shortlisted for the same award several times, and has been awarded the David Cohen Prize for Literature. In the 1980s, he wrote crime fiction under the name Dan Kavanagh. One great thing about The Paris Review is that they show images of the authors’ marked-up manuscripts. Below is an image (lovingly taken from the website) of his 2000 novel Love, etc.

You can read the interview in its entirety on The Paris Review here or by clicking on the manuscript page above.

I wanted to highlight one particular passage from the interview in which Barnes talks about the writing process

BARNES—I think you should like the process [of writing]. I would imagine that a great pianist would enjoy practicing because, after you’ve technically mastered the instrument, practicing is about testing interpretation and nuance and everything else. Of course, the satisfaction, the pleasure of writing varies; the pleasure of the first draft is quite different from that of revision.

Paris Review—The first draft is fraught with difficulty. It’s like giving birth, very painful, but after that taking care of and playing with the baby is full of joy.

BARNES—Ah! But sometimes it isn’t a baby, it’s something hideous and malformed; it doesn’t look like a baby at all. I tend to write quickly when I’m on the first draft, and then just revise and revise.

PRSo you rewrite a lot?

BARNES—All the time. That’s when the real work begins. The pleasure of the first draft lies in deceiving yourself that it is quite close to the real thing. The pleasure of the subsequent drafts lies partly in realizing that you haven’t been gulled by the first draft. Also in realizing that quite substantial things can be changed, changed even quite late in the day, that the book can always be improved. Even after it’s published, for that matter. This is partly why I’m against word processors, because they tend to make things look finished sooner than they are. I believe in a certain amount of physical labor; novel-writing should feel like a version—however distant—of traditional work.

PR—So you write by hand?

BARNES—I wrote Love, etc. by hand. But normally I type on an IBM 196c, then hand correct again and again until it’s virtually illegible, then clean type it, then hand correct again and again. And so on.

PR—When do you let go? What makes you feel it is ready?

BARNES—When I find that the changes I’m making are dis-improving my text as much as improving it. Then I know it’s time to wave good-bye.

PR—What do you use your computer for, then?

BARNES—I use it for e-mail and shopping.

—”Julian Barnes, The Art of Fiction No. 165.” The Paris Review No. 157 (Winter 2000)

I much appreciate what Barnes says about the process of writing—that it should be enjoyable, because you are practicing and improving with every word. I like that he makes it very clear that the first draft is not the final product, but that you can still derive pleasure from the first draft. (I’m working on that skill.) And I like that he actually keeps on improving his drafts until he isn’t improving them anymore—it’s always difficult to know when to step back and say something is finished.

What did you think of the interview? To read more wisdom from successful writers (e.g. not me), click here for a list of Author Chats.

Author Chats: Ethan Rutherford


This is my first Author Chats post! I debated about which category I should file these under, and settled on Motivation Monday. Future Author Chats will be available on the Author Chats page!Motivation

Note: This post includes affiliate links. If you purchase from these links, you are supporting Write Lara Write! (I’d get about a penny per purchase.)

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of hearing Ethan Rutherford share one of the short stories about to be published in his book The Peripatetic Coffin and Other Stories.

He read “Camp Winnesaka,” a desperate camp counselor’s tale of how they lost so many campers one fateful year, while attempting to get spirits (and enrollment) up. It was a terribly amusing dark comedy, and once Rutherford mentioned that many of his stories involve ships blowing up, I decided exactly what I’d be getting my husband for his birthday this year.

Since I didn’t actually conduct an interview with Rutherford, I just listened to the reading and then briefly chatted with him about writing, reading, and being an at-home parent, I’m just going to list my notes below in a semi-coherent matter. Note that these are not direct quotes, they are paraphrases. I am no court stenographer.

On Reading

Read like a maniac and read all sorts of writers.

Recommended reading:

On Writing

Just get the draft out. You don’t know what the story is about until it’s written.

And just try to tell a good story—don’t set out to write some big, deep message.

Write about things that make you uncomfortable.

To students of writing: You ease up on yourself as you get older. It’s easier to write when you aren’t panicking all the time.

About plot and character: Ask yourself, “What kind of person would do X, Y, Z?”

On his process: Rutherford writes in the same place, at the same desk, listening to the same music playlist, to get him ready to write. He also reads up to the point where he stopped before.

On Motivation

Make a list of what gets you creative. (Mine? Reading good literature, especially poetry. Watching movies that inspire me to create new worlds. Listening to my “creative inspiration” playlists. Experiencing life, being human and being around other humans.)

Every writer’s motivation and inspiration ebb and flow in a cycle. Once you go through the cycle a few times, you’ll begin to recognize where you’re at on the cycle, and you’ll know how to get back on top of things. (I like to think of them as “rainy seasons” and “dry seasons”.)

On Being an At-Home Parent / Writer

(I didn’t take notes during our chat, but we came up with the same conclusion:) Once your kid is mobile, good luck.


That’s all I’ve got! I’m filing this under “Motivation Mondays” also, since I’m a bit late in posting, and this fits in both categories. Take some time and find out if there are readings or book signings or author talks in your local area. It’s always a great inspiration to me to hear other people read their own stories and talk about the writing process, because each writer is so different. And don’t forget to fill your heads with different writers by constantly reading new voices. If you can’t make time to read, you certainly can’t have time to write.