A Way with Words: Tim Wilson

by Tim Wilson / 18 February, 2017

Tim Wilson. Photo/Scott McAulay

Tim Wilson describes his writing day.

How to write? Just do it. Put one word after another, and another, and another. Add some ­adjectives. Hey, not so many adverbs! ­Imagine you’re in a bar, telling a story that your life depends on. Fill a page. Feel thirsty? Hungry? Who cares? Keep going.

It doesn’t matter where. My first novel, Their Faces Were Shining, got born standing up in a windowless room in ­Spanish Harlem, NYC. Worried about my posture, you see. Didn’t want to slump into some couch … for seven years, which is how long the damn thing took. I was 45. I’d always dreamed of writing a novel. There was nothing to lose.

When you write matters. The earlier the better, probably; though 5.30am, I’ve found, isn’t convivial. The head’s still too yolky with dreams and fear. Because I have day jobs in TV and radio, I reserve one day each week for novels. Friday, usually. I’ll aim for 1000 words a day. If I do 400, I’m satisfied. Not happy, but satisfied. Fiction’s about words as well as numbers.

Some insist that concentration’s important. Cloister yourself. Shut the blinds. Pour superglue into your ADSL port. Baloney. Books crystallise beguilement, they slice distraction into digestibility. You’re trying to enchant the reader, right? So do whatever it takes to amuse yourself first.

Tone is important. The music of the words. Find your voice, then ride it the way hairy guys ride horses. That’s what I did with my recent novel, The Straight Banana. It’s a story about books and­ culture disguised as a paranoiac thriller about a terror plot. There are graphics, different fonts, a pie graph, a quiz and a painting in the pages. Rules are for breaking.

I write in bursts. Can you tell? I’ll do a paragraph, or series thereof, then read them back. Then I’ll cross something out, and add something. Then cross that out, too. The most helpful key on your keyboard is “backspace”.

Writing is like cooking: physical as well as emotional and intellectual. I used to like disposable fountain pens (the Pilot Varsity range) and notebooks, intriguing ones with suede covers. Now I just text myself on my Samsung.

Longhand, or typed, or word-processed? Up to you. You’re an instrument. What makes you sound best? I handwrote The Straight Banana’s prequel, News Pigs, on a white couch in an apartment in downtown Auckland’s Dilworth ­Building. My chicken-scratch filled huge black ­notebooks bought in NYC, effervescing. Then I plunked and plinked it into a Word document. Be warned: handwriting lends a certain Victorian energy to the gig, but it is also a giant time-suck.

The view from that couch, by the way, was of dentists in the opposite building, and their victims. People in a chair, their mouths open, trying to think of faraway. People like me.

Currently, I’m working on a novel about domesticity, terrorism and remorse. Oh, plus a kids’ book called The Lonely Little Fart. In writing, as in life itself, ­variety is the spice.

Tim Wilson is a journalist, producer, author and radio personality. His most recent book, The Straight Banana, was published last year by Victoria University Press.

This article was first published in the January 21, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener. Follow the Listener on Twitter, Facebook and sign up to the weekly newsletter.

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