Paul Auster in Conversation

James Garside
Paul AusterWikimedia Commons
I do have a few unusual writing habits — I’m a dinosaur now. I write everything by hand and type it up on an old manual typewriter, an Olympia 1961. … I can say this, I’ve never been able to compose on a keyboard. I need a pen or a pencil in my hand, feel that it’s a very physical activity. When I write, words are literally coming out of my body. — Paul Auster

Paul Auster is one of America's best known and well-regarded postmodern novelists. His work is synonymous with Brooklyn and New York.

He has a wonderful story about why he always carries a pencil. The one time he needed it most, as a child, he didn’t have one — and missed the opportunity to get the autograph of his childhood baseball hero Willie Mays.

“After that night, I started carrying a pencil with me wherever I went. It became a habit of mine never to leave the house without making sure I had a pencil in my pocket. It’s not that I had any particular plans for that pencil, but I didn’t want to be unprepared. I had been caught empty-handed once, and I wasn’t about to let it happen again. If nothing else, the years have taught me this. If there’s a pencil in your pocket, there’s a good chance that one day you’ll feel tempted to start using it. As I like to tell my children, that’s how I became a writer.”

I scribbled down the following notes in my notebook as I listened to him tell this story: Put one story up against another. Get away from where you live for a while. Life is fragile and chaos.

How can we penetrate the inner workings of another person when we can barely understand ourselves?

When in doubt, write it out. Writers are inveterate liars.You’re allowed to contradict yourself. Typewriters are cool. Always carry a pencil.

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NCTJ-qualified British independent journalist, author and travel writer.


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