Outsmarting the Writer’s Fog

To avoid getting caught adrift in the whims of the writing process, the Nobel laureate developed a meticulous system for planning his novels out that resembles the tactics of a veteran sailor.
  • 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