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Michael Chabon Talks About His Writing Process and Screenwriting

September 28, 2012

Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Chabon was in Portland last night to talk about his latest book Telegraph Avenue. It has critics gushing, and has already been optioned by Scott Rudin Productions. Hundreds of fans showed up, including some of his family. After reading, he had this to say about his writing process:

“I write in a diving bell at the bottom of the ocean with oven mitts on my hands and blindfolded. I got this from Jonathan Franzen – all the things he does when he writes.

Actually, I have a studio behind my house in Berkeley. I share it with my wife, who is also a writer. She works in the daytime primarily, and I work at night. I use music to construct a little bit of a tunnel around myself. It can’t be intrusive music. It has to stay not quite in the background. Now silence feels distracting to me. Total silence makes it harder for me to concentrate than if a certain kind of music is playing. It has to be instrumental for the most part. It has to be dynamically stable. It cannot have soft passages and loud passages.

I work roughly five or six hours a day, five to six days a week, and I try to get a thousand words per session, a thousand new words. I don’t count rewrites.”

And about scriptwriting:

“When I first started doing screenwriting, I confess I only did it for the money, and even more than the money, I was doing it for the healthcare. Health insurance is not readily available for a writer unless you’re attached to some institution. With the Writers Guild, you get a really nice health plan. My wife and I were both writing, and we were expecting our first child, and we needed health insurance. It took me a long time to stop looking at it that way. I think the reason that it took the period of time it did was because that was the time it took me to get good at it. At some point, I realized I knew how to do it, and I knew what I was doing. I could look at a screenplay and see what was wrong with it. At that point, I found that I actually started to enjoy it, to really care, do it well, and that was, of course, a disaster. Once you care in Hollywood, then they have you. Then you’re doomed. That’s what happened to F. Scott Fitzgerald.”

Harper, 2012


From → Author Readings

  1. Great insights, I like his honest practical approach to writing with healthcare and real life in mind.

    As always I can count on you to get the good stuff when I can’t be there. Hoping to make it to some readings soon. Sandra Cisneros in October for certain.

    • Deborah, I was thinking about Sandra Cisneros, as well. On Monday, I’m going to Matthew Dickman’s reading of his new book of poetry. I just finished it and it’s wonderful. The following Monday I’m going to see David Abrams who wrote Fobbit which just got an awesome review by the NYT. He’ll be reading with Karl Marlantes who wrote Matterhorn. Of course, I’ll be at Wordstock all weekend. Hope to see you soon.

  2. Thanks, Diane. Not being able to make it to Portland for last night, I was disappointed I wouldn’t be able to hear him talk about his writing process/day/method etc. Now I feel so much better as he’s singing my song. Now if only I was singing it with his bank account! Can’t wait to read it. Powell’s is sending me a signed edition.
    Funny about the bald man tweet. LOL

    • Val, wish you could have made it. He had a lot of interesting things to say about writing his books. I tend to be most interested in the authors’ writing process, as I guess you can surmise. Let’s plan to meet for a drink at Wordstock. Want to get all caught up with you!

      • Yes, we need a catch up! How are your pooches? All healthy now? I never did hear what happened to them.
        Also, I’ll be at Wordstock with my writing pals, Chris and Patsy, but Patsy can’t go to the LiveWire event that Saturday night, so she’s giving her ticket away. Want to go with me and Chris?
        And yes, let me know where you have a hole in your schedule on Saturday. Chris and I will be leaving Sunday morning for Colonyhouse. We’re staying Fri. and Sat. at Mark Spencer.
        Miss you!

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