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How to Write a Great Novel

For the cover of today’s “Weekend Journal,”  Wall Street Journal journalist Alexandra Alter interviewed a random sampling of novelists for this series of mini-interviews.  Titled “How to Write a Great Novel” and covering the multifarious writing process, it’s as good an entry as any with which to launch this blog, since the how of great writing will be the primary topic …

Behind the scenes, many of these writers say they struggle with the daily work of writing, clocking thousands of solitary hours staring at blank pages and computer screens. Most agree on common hurdles: procrastination, writer’s block, the terror of failure that looms over a new project and the attention-sucking power of the Internet.

A few authors bristle when asked the inevitable question about how they write. Richard Ford declined to reveal his habits, explaining in an email that “those are the kind of questions I hope no one asks me after readings and lectures.” Others revel in spilling minute details, down to their preferred brand of pen (Amitav Ghosh swears by black ink Pelikan pens) or font size (Anne Rice uses 14-point Courier; National Book Award nominee Colum McCann sometimes uses eight-point Times New Roman, forcing himself to squint at the tiny type). Some now offer fans a window into the process, reporting on their progress on blogs and Twitter feeds. On his author Web site, John Irving describes how he begins his novels by writing the last sentence first.

Here is how a range of leading authors describe their approach to writing—a process that can be lonely, tedious, frustrating and exhilarating.

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