Auster: ‘You write sentences, and you cross out sentences’

American novelist Paul Auster on Sunset Park, influences and writing habits
Paul Auster

Goodreads (Bethanne Patrick): Now for a few questions from our community. Goodreads member Kirstie Shanley would like to hear your favorite story about another author.

Paul Auster: I do have a beloved story about another author that I believe is true, and I hope is true, because of how I feel about that author. I used the story in my novel Brooklyn Follies. It is, I believe, a true story: Kafka and his last lover, Dora, were walking in a Berlin park together and came upon a little girl crying because she had lost her doll. Kafka told her that he knew for a fact that the doll was fine, because he had had a letter from her. When the girl asked to see it, he told her he had not brought it with him but would return the next day with the letter. Thus began a series of elaborate letters from the doll posted from various locations. It’s a wonderful story, not least because it shows such compassion on Kafka’s part.

Siri Hustvedt at her home in Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY.

Goodreads: Goodreads member Anton Roe wonders how much you are influenced by your wife, the novelist Siri Hustvedt (and in turn, how you influence her). How much do you share during the writing process?

Paul Auster: Siri and I have been together for 30 years and have shared our work with each other from the very beginning. As I write my books I’m reading them out loud, carrying pages home, eagerly awaiting her comments. She’s brilliant. I don’t think there’s a comment she’s made that I haven’t taken to heart over those years. Conversely, I read everything she writes, in her finished draft.

I think in order to do this kind of thing, number one you have to have total faith in the other person—believe in that person’s project, and be completely honest. You can’t just pat the other on the back. We do our thing separately but we share it.

Goodreads: Describe a typical day spent writing. Do you have any unusual writing habits? Goodreads member Susan recalls that you’ve said you always write in notebooks. She asks, “Can you talk a little more about your writing process and your notebook collection?”

Paul Auster

Paul Auster: There was a Monty Python sketch that showed Thomas Hardy writing in front of a live audience, and when he’d finish a sentence, they’d all cheer. Then he’d cross out a sentence, and they’d all boo or sigh. That’s about as exciting a life as it is for a writer: You write sentences, and you cross out sentences.

My day begins as all days begin for every human being. You wake up—if you’re alive, you wake up—pot of tea, read the paper, then walk to the little apartment three blocks away where I have my separate writing spot. It’s very Spartan here, nothing to do but work. I spend as much time as I can writing each day, which usually means from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.—basically a 9-5 schedule. Some days one has more stamina, you’re more on fire, it’s a marathon so you have to pace yourself.

I do have a few unusual writing habits—I’m a dinosaur now. I write everything by hand and type it up on an old manual typewriter, an Olympia 1961. The one time any serious damage was done to it was when my now-33-year-old son was two, and he snapped off the return arm. I had to take it to a shop that was very much like the Hospital of Broken Objects in Sunset Park.

50fc1-paulauster_sunsetpark_excerptI can say this, I’ve never been able to compose on a keyboard. I need a pen or a pencil in my hand, feel that it’s a very physical activity. When I write, words are literally coming out of my body.

I’m very particular about my notebooks, and 95 percent of the time they are the same kind of notebook: They’re made in France and are very tall—Clairefontaine brand, 24 x 32 centimeters. They’re filled with pages of graph paper, which I like, as my handwriting is rather small.

I tend to buy notebooks whenever I travel. I have Norwegian notebooks, Japanese notebooks, Australian notebooks. I write with a fountain pen, and over the years I’ve experimented with many different kinds of fountain pens, but for the past decade or so I’ve been using an Italian brand called Aurora. I do write with pencils, too, and those are always Pentel mechanical pencils with 0.5 leads. I told you I have small handwriting! [Read more]

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