“I’m a slow writer. Some of that’s temperament and some of it is that I really focus on the language. The language has to be of a certain feeling, there’s a density that the page has to have.”
Charles is the author of Cold Mountain, a best-selling novel about the Civil War published in the late 1990s. Cold Mountain sold 4 million copies and far outstripped his second novel, Thirteen Moons, which was published nine years later. His newest novel, Nightwoods, just hit the bookstores.
In an interview in USA Today, Charles talked about writing and the time it takes him to develop a story, because he focuses as much on language as on the plot:
“For me, a good day is a page, maybe a page and a half. I’d love to be more efficient, but I am not.”
When things aren’t going well:
“I just stare and ask myself, ‘What’s the point?’ When the language doesn’t come, when you cannot hear the narrative voice in your head. I know I could just get something down and fix it later. But if I’m not engaged in the language, I have no confidence in the story. It’s a lot more than plot. The language has to keep my interest.”
I love the honesty that shines through in this interview. Charles doesn’t mince words or try to excuse himself. Writing is hard and sometimes you just fall out of love with what you’re doing — sometimes what you’re writing just doesn’t engage you.
One solution Charles has come up with when he hits a rough patch seems to be to step away from his work for a while. He rides a mountain bike in North Carolina where he lives and keeps a log of his mileage along with a log of how many words he writes. Maybe he finds riding as useful for his writing as Joyce Carol Oates finds running.
Slow writing, fast writing, who cares — as long as you get the job done. One page a day. It doesn’t sound like much does it? But write a page a day for a whole year and you have 365 of them: a book!