Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Most writers are interested in how other writers write. In their environments; in their habits; in their productivity. Not because they’re neurotics, worried that they’re doing it right, or working hard enough (or not only because they’re neurotics), but because writing is a private process, and a mysterious one, too. In a piece for last Saturday’s The Week In Books feature in the Guardian (which the Guardian doesn’t seem to archive online, any more, so I can’t provide a link), Philip Hensher noted that his friend Alan Hollinghurst ‘is a devotee of Ishiguro’s “crash” method. After a long period of planning and thinking, the author retreats into a cell and writes furiously for up to 12 hours a day.’ Hensher’s method, on the other hand, is slow and steady:
Writing my latest novel, King of the Badgers, I got up at 6:30, five to six days a week, and wrote until 10. I reckon to produce between 400 and 1,500 words a day, and then do a lot of crossing out.
There are other methods, of course - Vladimir Nabokov wrote sentences and paragraphs on index cards, and then assembled them into the finished work. But it seems to me that the Crash and Slow and Steady methods are at either end of a spectrum that encompasses most common variants of writing methodology. I’m of the slow and steady school, although I don’t write within a set time but try instead to produce a fixed amount each day. I’m working on a second draft at the moment - rewriting, crossing out, inserting new material - and attempting to make a quota of around 2000 words a day. Yesterday I was writing so slowly that I could have used the blood sweated from my forehead for ink. Today I finished inside two hours. So it goes. I do have a plan before I start the first draft, but it isn't in any way detailed, and I certainly don't spend months thinking about the book before I start. As far as I’m concerned writing is a process of discovery. The trick is to keep moving forward.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

New World

An image of Vesta taken by the Dawn spacecraft two days ago from a distance of 15,000 kilometres, when (as you probably know) it went into orbit around the asteroid. Dawn will slowly spiral inward, and will take many more images at closer range, but this is a great early look at the ravaged worldlet, the second largest body in the asteroid belt (bigger version here).  We're looking down at the south pole, which about a billion years ago was hit by a large body.  Some debris spalled off by the impact resurfaced Vesta; the rest, about 1% of Vesta's original mass, went into orbit around the sun. HED meteorites are part of this debris, so we already have samples of Vesta's crust.  The big whack left behind a big crater.  It's about 500 kilometres across, almost as wide as Vesta's mean diameter.  The lump in the centre is an uplifted central peak; there are also huge cliffs, and ridges forming chevron-like features. Over at the Planetary Society blog, Emily Lakdawalla has posted a nice analysis, comparing the chevron features inside Vesta's south pole crater with those of Uranus's moon Miranda.  Miranda's chevrons were probably formed by diapirs or plumes of upwelling warm ice; if the chevrons sit at the top of the plumes, those ridges may be the edges of uptilted blocks.  Since we know that Vesta was once geologically active and almost certainly has an iron core that was once molten (all the HED meteorites are igneous material), it's tempting to speculate that big whack may have triggered some kind of residual geological activity.  Could there be ancient volcanoes, on the opposite side?
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