Ian Fleming was lazy – and I want to be just like him
Whenever I sit down to write a blog post about fiction writing, I question what I even have a right to say. I’d love to give advice on how to write, or share what I’m working on and how I do it, but the truth is I’m just like everyone else in the group: still learning.
So instead, I’ve turned to one of the masters, the creator of one of my favourite series, so I can shamefully steal his knowledge and share it with you.
The author in question is, of course, Ian Fleming – the father of James Bond. In May 1963, just a year before he died, Fleming wrote an essay for the Books and Bookmen periodical published by Hansom Books in which he discussed how he came to write the acclaimed 007 saga.
After paragraphs referencing the well-known factoid that he based some of Bond’s adventures on his own experiences, he comes to the actual process of writing. And here’s some of his thoughts that I found particularly useful and inspiring:
“I too, am lazy. My heart sinks when I contemplate the two or three hundred virgin sheets of foolscap I have to besmirch with more or less well chosen words in order to produce a 60,000 word book.
“One of the essentials is to create a vacuum in my life which can only be satisfactorily filled by some form of creative work – whether it be writing, painting, sculpting, composing or just building a boat – I was about to get married – a prospect which filled me with terror and mental fidget. To give my hands something to do, and as an antibody to my qualms about the marriage state after 43 years as a bachelor, I decided one day to damned well sit down and write a book.
“The therapy was successful. And while I still do a certain amount of writing in the midst of my London Life, it is on my annual visits to Jamaica that all my books have been written.
“But, failing a hideaway such as I possess, I can recommend hotel bedrooms as far removed from your usual “life” as possible. Your anonymity in these drab surroundings and your lack of friends and distractions will create a vacuum which should force you into a writing mood and, if your pocket is shallow, into a mood which will also make you write fast and with application. I do it all on the typewriter, using six fingers. The act of typing is far less exhausting than the act of writing, and you end up with a more or less clean manuscript The next essential is to keep strictly to a routine.
“I write for about three hours in the morning – from about 9:30 till 12:30 and I do another hour’s work between six and seven in the evening. At the end of this I reward myself by numbering the pages and putting them away in a spring-back folder. The whole of this four hours of daily work is devoted to writing narrative.
“I never correct anything and I never go back to what I have written, except to the foot of the last page to see where I have got to. If you once look back, you are lost. How could you have written this drivel? How could you have used “terrible” six times on one page? And so forth. If you interrupt the writing of fast narrative with too much introspection and self-criticism, you will be lucky if you write 500 words a day and you will be disgusted with them into the bargain. By following my formula, you write 2,000 words a day and you aren’t disgusted with them until the book is finished, which will be in about six weeks.
“I don’t even pause from writing to choose the right word or to verify spelling or a fact. All this can be done when your book is finished.”
So much of Fleming’s advice applies to my own discipline (or lack thereof) when it comes to writing. As much as I was already aware of my problems – looking back at past text, correcting as I go – hearing it from a man who suffered in the same way, but still became one of the most iconic authors of the last century, is beyond inspiring. Now to pour myself a Martini and get started.