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Primary influences

December 17, 2009

In my last post, I mentioned how big an impact Chuck Klosterman has had on me as a writer. Vladimir Nabokov probably belongs in that top tier as well, and that last post is a big part of the reason.

Nabokov had something of a quirky composition process. His son, Dmitri, explains it in a recent interview:

His process of composition did not change much; he had an image of the entire work in his head before he started writing.

The writing process itself, as with Lolita, Pale Fire and Ada, entailed writing with a No 2 pencil – neither too hard nor too soft – on index cards. To avoid confusion, he would write on one side only, placing a large X on the reverse. The No 2 pencil has the advantage of being easily erasable, something that he valued. He said he used up the eraser at the end of the pencil more quickly than the pencil itself.

I do not know how he would have reacted to the advent of the computer, as he disliked electricity intensely. But you might say his method was a manual precursor of the computer; he could shuffle or replace the cards in their box at will.

I mention this here because I employed a similar method in the composition of my last post. I annotated Klosterman’s essay as I was reading it, and when I was finished, I transcribed into a Word document those elements I wished to quote and discuss, in the order they appeared in the essay. Then I rearranged them (thank you both, Cut and Paste) in an order that better fit my own narrative and inserted my commentary where appropriate.

Organizational methods like this one are nice to have for 2,200-word blog posts. For a full-length book, they are indispensable. For this review, I culled quotes and passages from a 25-page essay, whereas for my book, I will be synthesizing a narrative from what I expect to be hours upon hours of interviews. It’s a task with which I’m familiar in concept but unfamiliar in scale. I plan to explore a few different methods, but ultimately I expect to employ something similar to Nabokov’s system.

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