The Word Process is an interview series focusing on the writing process and aimed at illuminating the many ways that writers approach the same essential task. In this interview, the writer Olivia Laing discusses the spaces she works, the one skill that writers need, and the writers she returns to again and again. Her novel Crudo will be released in the U.S. on September 10, 2018.
You can read other Word Process interviews here.
What does your writing desk look like? What objects, photographs, texts or talismans do you keep there?
I don’t have a desk. I mostly work on my lap on a sofa. Cafes sometimes. When I’m brewing up a book, I tend to spend a lot of time collecting images and sticking them on the wall in my study. At the moment there are postcards by Agnes Martin, a photo of Francis Bacon, and some scribbled mind-maps, which serve as the skeleton structures.
Describe a typical day in your writing life.
I’m currently mostly on book tour, so a typical day is trains and events and email logistics. If I’m actually writing, lots of tea and gardening breaks. I hate starting, so I fiddle around with email/Instagram for hours, and actually get cracking late into the day.
When it comes to the craft of writing, what do you think is the most important quality or skill for a writer to possess in order to excel, and why?
A good ear. Anything else you can learn as you go.
What book, poem, story, essay or quotation inspires you as a writer? What are your literary touchstones, the things that come to mind as you sit down to write a first draft?
Woolf and Wojnarowicz are my touchstones.
What do you do when you feel stuck in your writing?
Write a different book. I wrote Crudo in a frenzy because I was stuck on Everybody, the book I’m currently jittering over.
What’s the best advice about craft or process that you’ve ever received?
It’s a long game.
Olivia Laing is the author of three much-admired works of biography, memoir, and criticism. Her most recent, The Lonely City, was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award and translated into fifteen languages. She is a recipient of the 2018 Windham-Campbell Prize and lives in London, England. Laing’s debut novel, Crudo, breaks with tradition. Crudo is more than a novel; it’s a fierce, feverish reckoning with the way we live now. Written in real time over seven weeks in the summer of 2017 (the first summer of Donald Trump’s presidency), Crudo is the engrossing, hilarious, heart-piercing story of Kathy, a writer who is trying to adjust to the idea of marriage while coming to grips with global chaos.
Photo Credit: Suki Dhanda