Benedict Wells Recommends...

“To be honest, writing can be a torturous affair. You have all of these emotions and scenes in your head, colorful and wordless. But when you write them down, in black and white, and look for a language, it often feels wrong. As if the translator between your head and your typing hands has failed. Or as Hemingway once said: ‘The first draft of anything is shit.’ I wish that had changed over the years, but it remains the same with every book, and for me the first draft is the most difficult. There are hundreds of pages to fill, you drift through an ocean of vague possibilities and ideas and don’t see any land for a long time.

I mostly write at night when the world around me is quiet. It’s like getting ahead on a lonesome highway. When I cannot make any headway, a long walk usually helps—best of all with music. For every novel I create a corresponding playlist with hundreds of songs. A musical compass I listen to during my wanderings through town or on train rides, to then come up with scenes or think about ones where I am stuck. Often it helps if I initially content myself with a mediocre solution. Like Orpheus and Eurydice, I try not to turn around too often at unsuccessful passages, but stubbornly continue writing. Otherwise, I am afraid that out of sheer frustration I would never write more than half. Once the first draft is finished, I immediately return to it, touch up and rewrite. From that moment on I enjoy the work. I love the idea of working and refining a text over the course of, at times, many years. Until the text in black and white finally feels like it always had in my head, wordless and colorful.”
—Benedict Wells, author of The End of Loneliness (Penguin Books, 2019)