As one of the most respected authors of the 21st century, John Irving has accomplished something rather unusual: he’s become a legend during his lifetime. March 2nd marks John Irving’s birthday, and this year (2020) the enigmatic author turns 78! Let’s take a look at some interesting factoids about this incredible writer and his writing process:
1. He begins most of his books at the end.
According to Irving, he tends to begin his books and screenplays with the last sentence and work his way backward. In fact, the author has a hard time imagining writing a book without knowing the ending—it’s necessary to his process to understand where the story finishes.
2. He takes 12-18 months to write a book.
John Irving starts out with 2-3 hours of writing per day when beginning a new book. Once he reaches the center he tends to up the writing time to 7,8, sometimes even up to 12 hours per day! When Irving begins approaching the ending of a new novel, he again lowers his writing time back to 2-3 hours. The reasoning is that beginnings and endings require slower, more thoughtful writing.
3. But he thinks about ideas for a long time.
Allowing an idea to germinate over a period of months and years before sitting down to write a story is essential in getting the tone just right—especially when it comes to historical works like The Cider House Rules. John Irving has bragged before that he’s held on to some ideas for 20 years before deciding to start writing about them!
4. He writes his first drafts by hand.
Most writers have their quirks, whether it’s eating or drinking certain things while writing, working at certain hours of the day, or needing particular scents and sounds around. For John Irving it’s all about the writing tools, at least when it comes to the first draft. Irving considers the laptop too fast a tool and enjoys writing all his first drafts by hand in order to slow down his thoughts and get a feel for the rhythm of the language.
5. He won an Oscar.
Speaking of The Cider House Rules, John Irving actually won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2000. The film stars Tobey Maguire, Charlize Theron, and Michael Caine, and is well worth watching. It goes without saying that it’s rare for a novelist to also be an Oscar winner!
What’s your favorite John Irving book, and why?