Outsmarting the Writer’s Fog

Novelist

Orhan Pamuk is a Turkish novelist who in 2006 won the Nobel Prize in Literature. He is the author of novels including The White CastleThe Black BookThe New LifeMy Name Is RedSnow, The Museum of Innocence, and A Strangeness in My Mind. 

He is the Robert Yik-Fong Tam Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University, where he teaches writing and comparative literature. Pamuk holds honorary doctorates from the Free University of Berlin, Tilburg University, Boğaziçi University, and Georgetown, and his books have been translated into more than fifty languages.

 

  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Question: How do you plan out your novel?

Orhan Pamuk: Okay. Novel -- I -- compared to other novelists I know as friends, or I know because of autobiographies or biographies of them, I am a relatively -- I make plans. I'm a relatively disciplined writer who composes the whole book before beginning to execute and write it. Of course you can't hold -- you cannot imagine a whole novel before you write it; there are limits to human memory and imagination. Lots of things come to your mind as you write a book, but again, I make a plan, chapter, know the plot. Characters never take over. I am controlling everything. And when I'm stuck at some chapter, I skip to a chapter that I want to write. I know what will be the thirteenth chapter or seventeenth chapter. Sometimes chapters get longer, sometimes digressions. But I try to control and enjoy writing like that. I am a sailor who knows where he's sailing, rather than lost in some fog, but it's so much fun -- and some authors are also like that. Then they don't know what the book is about.

Question: Do you write these plans out?

Orhan Pamuk: Yes, I put down in writing, a chapter, in fact. I also then write chapter headings: this will happen, that will happen, some details, some lines, some things; take notes as the novel progresses about the future chapters, about what I will write. Yes. And of course, if there's some research to be made, I do that research.

Question: What is your writing schedule?

Orhan Pamuk: I'm a disciplined writer. I think novelists should be disciplined and self-imposedworking hours. I work a lot, but I don't feel that I'm working. I always feel that there is a child in me, healthy, and I'm playing. So when I say I work a lot, I don't say it in a negative sense; in fact, I say it stressing that I enjoy life a lot when I write, and I like it. So till the age of late thirties, when my daughter was born, I worked till 4 a.m. in the morning and woke up noontime, more or less like Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Then when she was five I began to take my daughter to school early in the morning and switched almost around. Now I was waking up at 5 a.m., working for two hours, waking up my daughter and taking to her school. And then I work and work, go to the office -- I have an office; I need a separate place between the family or the crowd -- and I write and write and write and write, very disciplined.

Question: What is your advice to aspiring novelists?

Orhan Pamuk: The strongest advice would be, don't ever listen to either my advice or anyone else's advice. You find your own -- follow your own humors, you will find them. Just work hard and read hard.

 Recorded on: November 11, 2009


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