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David Mitchell: Advice to a young writer
David Mitchell’s new novel Slade House, was just published by Random House. Mitchell’s previous books include Cloud Atlas, Bone Clocks, and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. He recently spoke with the novelist Irina Reyn, as well as students in the University of Pittsburgh’s Writing Program

What was the journey to your first publication?

David Mitchell: I was in my mid-twenties and daydreamed of being a writer. I wanted to do to other people what my favorite authors had done to me. I found myself in Japan teaching English, and had no idea what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I was very naïve. It was in back of my head: You’ll probably be a writer.

I sent an appalling novel, the first three chapters and the plot synopsis—this is pre-Internet of course, it cost a fortune—to fifteen agents and five publishers in London. I got four responses. One of the agents sent a note back, “This perhaps isn’t the thing, but let me see the next thing you write.” That was very encouraging.

I took half a year off work and went on the Trans Siberian Railway. I filled up notebooks. These random thoughts began to coagulate into stories. Stories are great but nobody buys them. I thought, how can I turn these things into a novel? Well, sometimes a theme can be your glue. I looked at the stories and began to notice they were all answers to the question: Why do things happen? What if one thing happens in one story that makes the next story possible? This is life, this is reality. The infinity of tiny coincidences. Plot connections. I realized that was strong enough glue. I showed five of these to the man in London who’d earlier showed polite, cautious interest in my work and he said, “You might have something here, my boy.” One night, a fax came in and I still remember it. It was a very cheap two-book deal with the publishers I’m still with, and that was one of the best days of my life. In the morning, I was afraid it was a dream. But there was the fax on the table and it was one of those gilded mornings where the world is fantastic.

Here is advice. Send the thing out and forget it. Quickly get to work on the next thing. Don’t sit by the phone or watch your email. Don’t hope. You’ve done a big thing by finishing something. Spend all the energy on possible despair. Avert that possible despair. Transfer the despair to the next manuscript. Right away, like the next day.

Was it the process of learning to write that first book that made you confident enough to push against the powerful lure of the realist,linear novel?

I didn’t know I was supposed to write a realist, linear novel. Lots of people have done that and some of them are really, really good. Do you want to go head to head with the people that have done it brilliantly for decades? Avoid the fight in the first place.

If you don’t want to write a realist novel, that’s not who or what you are. Work out the kind of novel you want to write, that you’re best suited for and do that one instead. It’s likelier to be more interesting. It might be awful but it won’t be a clone. Better to be brilliantly bad with your first novel than competently clone-like.

For the rest of the interview

Source: Lit Hub

 

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