Mario Vargas Llosa
First of all, it’s a daydream, a kind of rumination about a person, a situation, something that occurs only in the mind. Then I start to take notes, summaries of narrative sequences: somebody enters the scene here, leaves there, does this or that. When I start working on the novel itself, I draw up a general outline of the plot—which I never hold to, changing it completely as I go along, but which allows me to get started. Then I start putting it together, without the slightest preoccupation with style, writing and rewriting the same scenes, making up completely contradictory situations …
The raw material helps me, reassures me. But it’s the part of writing I have the hardest time with. When I’m at that stage, I proceed very warily, always unsure of the result. The first version is written in a real state of anxiety. Then once I’ve finished that draft—which can sometimes take a long time; for The War of the End of the World, the first stage lasted almost two years—everything changes. I know then that the story is there, buried in what I call my magma. It’s absolute chaos but the novel is in there, lost in a mass of dead elements, superfluous scenes that will disappear or scenes that are repeated several times from different perspectives, with different characters. It’s very chaotic and makes sense only to me. But the story is born under there. You have to separate it from the rest, clean it up, and that’s the most pleasant part of the work. From then on I am able to work much longer hours without the anxiety and tension that accompanies the writing of that first draft. I think what I love is not the writing itself, but the rewriting, the editing, the correcting … I think it’s the most creative part of writing. I never know when I’m going to finish a story. A piece I thought would only take a few months has sometimes taken me several years to finish. A novel seems finished to me when I start feeling that if I don’t end it soon, it will get the better of me. When I’ve reached saturation, when I’ve had enough, when I just can’t take it anymore, then the story is finished.
First, I write by hand. I always work in the morning, and in the early hours of the day, I always write by hand. Those are the most creative hours. I never work more than two hours like this—my hand gets cramped. Then I start typing what I’ve written, making changes as I go along; this is perhaps the first stage of rewriting. But I always leave a few lines untyped so that the next day, I can start by typing the end of what I’d written the day before. Starting up the typewriter creates a certain dynamic—it’s like a warm-up exercise.
In the morning, making contact again, the anxiety of it … But if you have something mechanical to do, the work has already begun. The machine starts to work. Anyway, I have a very rigorous work schedule. Every morning until two in the afternoon, I stay in my office. These hours are sacred to me. That doesn’t mean I’m always writing; sometimes I’m revising or taking notes. But I remain systematically at work. There are, of course, the good days for creation and the bad ones. But I work every day because even if I don’t have any new ideas, I can spend the time making corrections, revising, taking notes, etcetera … Sometimes I decide to rewrite a finished piece, if only to change the punctuation.
Monday through Saturday, I work on the novel in progress, and I devote Sunday mornings to journalistic work—articles and essays. I try to keep this kind of work within the allotted time of Sunday so that it doesn’t infringe on the creative work of the rest of the week. Sometimes I listen to classical music when I take notes, as long as there’s no singing.
The Paris Review, 1990