Chad Harbach spent ten years working on his first novel, The Art of Fielding, which was selected as Amazon's top Best Books of the Month pick this month. Amazon's Kevin Nguyen called it "one of the year's finest works of fiction" and the novel has received stellar reviews elsewhere. We spoke with Harbach by phone last week about some of the details of his writing process. Here's a gently edited version of that conversation. (A link to the full audio version is below).
Q: When and where did you write this book?
A: Geographically it was written in lots of different places because I lived in several different cities over the course of the composition. But my physical process is pretty much the same. I mostly write in cafes, and I write all the first drafts longhand. So there are cafes in Boston and in New York and in Charlottesville, Virginia, and in Wisconsin where I've camped out for many long hours, churning out the initial drafts of each chapter.
A: The computer has a way of being pretty paralyzing if you're trying to compose on it, because you have that single blank screen and you feel tempted to just go back and go back and change what you're doing as you're doing it. The other thing I like about writing longhand is that there's a natural revision process that comes just from typing it into my laptop. Because, I kind of think that I'm going to transcribe word for word, but you very naturally wind up omitting the parts that are boring you as you go along. So you have a natural step in which you're cutting stuff down. And of course if a better word or a better idea occurs to me as I'm doing that, of course I just make the change as it happens. I guess that's the first round of revision, just typing it into the computer.
Q: Do you have any routines that you stick with? Are you a coffee fiend? Are you plugged into headphones listening to music? What's your "workspace," as you've taken it from city to city?
A: Of course, I wrote the book over a period of a lot of years, and during that time I had jobs and I had different prospects going on… I kind of wrote the book in bursts of a few months at a time, because when I was working on it, I needed to be doing it every day, but I didn't always have the time to work on it every day … For each of those few-month spurts that I was working on it, I would develop a set of routines that would last me for the duration of those few months. And they would differ from time to time. Sometimes it would be every morning, sometimes it would be afternoon. But generally it just involved going to the same place at the same time every day and drinking a pot of tea and just going as far through as I could.