GQ Piece:  How I Write (2000)
Posted: 26 June 2008 11:32 PM   [ Ignore ]
Power User
Total Posts:  485
Joined  2005-10-08

How I Write by Elmore Leonard
GQ (September 2000)

Keep your computer.  Give me a Montblanc pen and a pad of paper.  The words will follow.

I can write anywhere.

But I don’t use a computer, and I could never write on a laptop.  I hate the sound of computers; it’s too dull, like it’s not doing anything for you.

I write longhand, then I put whatever I’ve written – a few pages at a time – on the typewriter as I go along.  Or maybe just a single paragraph, to see what it looks like, because you can’t tell what it looks like when it’s written down.

When I started out writing Westerns, I was also working as a copywriter, doing ads for Chevrolet.  I had a growing family, so I would get up at 5 A.M. and work for two hours before going to work.  I did five books and thirty short stories that way.  Back then I composed on a portable typewriter, and all I was doing was x-ing out what I wrote, and it was taking forever.  So I thought, Why not do it longhand?  You can cross it out on the page as you go along, keep going, and then when you finally have something you like, type it up.  I’ve been doing it that way since 1951.

I would never start using a computer.  Not now, no!

I order the pads that I write on.  They’re eight and a half by eleven, buff – a nice yellowish color – and unlined.  My handwriting goes up, which I’m happy to hear is a good thing.  Hemingway’s went down something awful, like a waterfall.  He was my first big influence because he made writing books look easy.  Then I realized that Hemingway didn’t have much of a sense of humor.  So I had to find someone else.

To write with, I started out with a 29-cent Scripto pencil, then worked up to an orange 98-cent pen.  I used those for a while.  And now I’m up to an expensive Montblanc – and it works very well.  It’s a very nice pen.  It’s maroon.  The pen is important because I’m doing it all in longhand, and it has to feel right.  There has to be a good flow.  That is important – not absolutely necessary, but why not go with what works best for me?

I used to be able to write five pages a day, every day, no problem.  Now a good day is five or four pages, and that’s 9:30 A.M. until 6 P.M.  The time flies when I’m sitting here and I’m into a scene with my characters and I know who they are and how they talk – and they have to be able to talk or they are demoted or short or something.  If I decide between two bad guys who are at each other all the time and you know one of them is going to shoot the other and the other one is going to be left with the woman, well, the guy who is left is the one who talks or who has more to say, so as to keep things going.

I used to throw away the handwritten drafts, but when I told this to a rare-book dealer, he had a fit.  He said, “You’ve got to save those!”  But it’s not something I ever considered worth keeping.  But he said, “Please, just put them in a drawer.”  So when I started a new book I was so concerned with putting these pages in a drawer and keeping track of what I was throwing away, as opposed to what I was writing, that I quit that.  It was too distracting.

I have written like this everywhere.  In Hollywood hotel rooms, I have written screenplays in longhand.  And even on the beach.  But writing on the beach is not what it’s cracked up to be.  The sand blows and you perspire and the page gets all blotty and messed up, so I don’t do that anymore.

I am always scribbling something down when I’m researching, too.  I just came back from a trip with my researcher to Panama City Beach, which is on the panhandle of Florida.  I was there talking to high divers, possibly to find a main character for my next book.  I was writing and taking a lot of notes tankside – all the details about the tank and what metal it’s made of, etc.  The guys dive from around seventy to seventy-five feet into the tank – you’ve got to like living on the edge a little bit.

The guy who was managing the diving show, he got a local TV crew to come out, but they ended up spending their time with me.  When I watched the news that evening, there were a couple guys diving in the background, but the whole thing was about me.  I was just there to take notes.


Posted: 27 June 2008 01:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Senior Member
Total Posts:  97
Joined  2008-03-18

Well, I was wondering. Thanks for the answer.