Wonderfully talented writer David Mitchell is interviewed in the Art of Fiction series in The Paris Review. A couple of tiny but fascinating extracts:
Do you have any form of ritual preparation before writing?
Absolutely not. I can write pretty much anywhere. If I’m in a loud place where I know the language, then I can’t write, but generally the universe needs to contrive circumstances to stop me writing, rather than contrive ones to allow me to write. But I am happiest in my hut in County Cork, with a pot of green tea and a large, uncluttered table.
Some writers talk about getting into a zone, where things come in a rush.
Writers can sound rather mystical when they talk about these things. Words like inspiration and creativity I’m really rather suspicious of, though I can’t talk about my work for more than thirty seconds without deploying them myself. Sometimes I think that creativity is a matter of seeing, or stumbling over, unobvious similarities between things—like composing a fresh metaphor, but on a more complex scale. One night in Hiroshima it occurred to me that the moon behind a certain cloud formation looked very like a painkiller dissolving in a glass of water. I didn’t work toward that simile, it was simply there: I was mugged, as it were, by the similarity between these two very different things. Literary composition can be a similar process. The writer’s real world and the writer’s fictional world are compared, and these comparisons turned into text. But other times literary composition can be a plain old slog, and nothing to do with zones or inspiration. It’s world making and the peopling of those worlds, complete with time lines and heartache.