Writing the Literary Novel

Boloblog: You’ve been working on a novel for a few months. Can you tell us about that? Ignatius: Yes, I have been. It’s literary fiction. I began the story at the end of August 2009 and just finished it—with a break of two whole weeks at Christmastime because I took a trip to India. I haven’t settled on the title, yet, so I’d rather not say. Boloblog: Was it hard being away from your writing for that length of time? Ignatius: It was difficult, those two weeks. There’s no such thing as a vacation when you begin a large body of work, unless it’s directly related, like doing research or field trips away from your desk to feed your words with direct facts or experiences. Even so, you kind of take your writing with you. I couldn’t do that this time and kept reminding myself that I would forget where I was in the story while in India, because I didn’t add a single word or thought to the novel during that time. And India can distract you wonderfully and intensely; it can keep you engaged within its own reality, so that you can get carried away without even trying. It’s like having an out of body experience there. You really have to make an effort to return to yourself after returning home, if you know what I mean (laughs). I loved being in India, of course. Boloblog: Did being there feed your work, as you put it? Ignatius: Yes, it did, but indirectly. I didn’t particularly go for that reason. It was a personal journey my wife and I made to the subcontinent to see family. But the novel itself is centered on my protagonist’s life in Mumbai, so being there again gave me a renewed sense of place and substance. The city is changing in an accelerated way, although it seems to stand still in many other aspects, with the overgrowing slums for instance and the stark differences between the poor and emerging middle class. There are more cars on Mumbai’s roads now than every before; there’s more wealth in the city. But we can talk about that on some other occasion. Boloblog: How do you get to the end of a novel? Ignatius: It’s simple: You write, that’s it. You write as if your life depended on it, that is to say with purpose and meaning, and being aware of the nature of your words and the connection you make between what’s dropping out of your head and onto the page. I’m looking for quality. You have to be aware, even if your writing takes you into a trance, which it does for me sometimes. You must be conscious of what you’re saying and how you’re saying it, and you must set yourself a goal to accomplish something each day—no matter how much time or energy you have or think you have. It’s a discipline that no one else can define for you but yourself. Boloblog: Is that it? So this is what gets you to the end of your novel? Ignatius: Hmm…not exactly. There’s more. Actually you find a comfortable chair in your home or apartment, or somewhere you can go to every time you want to write, and you decide if the view in front of you is going to keep you focused or pull you away from your work. A park bench may be the ideal place for someone, but not for me; there’s too much external stimulation within reach. For me, writing the novel is definitely an internal process, but it is also an external activity—drawing from stuff around me. Otherwise, what would I have to say? Then you find the proper time to write when you feel inspired, or you make time for inspiration. You shut the door if needed, turn off the TV, don’t answer the phones, don’t check your email, get on Facebook or some other social networking website, don’t answer the front door, don’t talk with anyone, even your partner (laughs), don’t put anything on the stove and walk away (more laughs), eat first, keep a beverage close at hand (I have to drink my Americano), and use the sound of you computer, paper, pen, your body’s movements, as a conveyance to begin your writing. Like I said earlier, it must be a discipline or you accomplish little. For a novel, it’s just demanding work, because you have to have some sense of where you’re going. Although that’s true for any body of writing—a poetry collection, memoir, or non-fiction work.