Kazuo Ishiguro, the Nobel Prize, and some advice about ploughing on

Written by Delia Davis 

On Thursday, the Swedish Academy awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature to Japanese-born British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro. “In novels of great emotional force,” wrote the academy, Ishiguro “has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.” Ishiguro’s oeuvre includes novels, screenplays, short stories, and even lyrics. Some of his more prominent works are The Remains of the Day (1989) and Never Let Me Go (2005).

Shrouded by the smoke of literary esteem, enshrined on the pedestals of history by prestigious, lofty awards like the Nobel Prize, it’s easy to look at writers like Ishiguro and forget about the truth of the writing process. As Megan Garber writes in The Atlantic, the art of writing has a reputation for being romanticized, so much so that aspiring writers forget what the job really entails: long, backache-inducing hours at the writing desk in some combination of inspired writing, staring at the page, and violent back-spacing (not necessarily in that order).

But Ishiguro, who initially thought the Nobel announcement was “a hoax” or “fake news,” calls attention to the writer’s laborious, desk-chained reality. After the announcement was made, an article Ishiguro wrote in 2014 for The Guardian immediately began circulating on social media. The article, titled “How I Wrote The Remains of the Day in Four Weeks,” details Ishiguro’s unglamorous struggles to maintain a consistent writing rhythm. Together with his wife Lorna, Ishiguro implemented a plan:

I would, for a four-week period, ruthlessly clear my diary and go on what we somewhat mysteriously called a “Crash”. During the Crash, I would do nothing but write from 9am to 10.30pm, Monday through Saturday. I’d get one hour off for lunch and two for dinner. I’d not see, let alone answer, any mail, and would not go near the phone. No one would come to the house. Lorna, despite her own busy schedule, would for this period do my share of the cooking and housework. In this way, so we hoped, I’d not only complete more work quantitively, but reach a mental state in which my fictional world was more real to me than the actual one.

During the “Crash,” Ishiguro churned words onto the page without a second thought. “The priority was simply to get ideas surfacing and growing,” he writes, “Awful sentences, hideous dialogue, scenes that went nowhere – I let them remain and ploughed on.”

Kazuo Ishiguro reminds us that behind that smokescreen of acclaim and success, it’s ultimately about commitment to the craft  – and a willingness to endure those “awful sentences.” Even now, with a shiny new Nobel Prize tucked behind his belt, Ishiguro still has his eager eyes on that torturous writing desk. “I’ve got a novel to finish, and it’s not an easy novel,” he told the New York Times, “It’s going to be just as difficult to get on with it when the dust settles as it were before.”

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