Writing Routines

Antony Beevor’s Writing Routine: “There is no excuse for not writing when it’s non-fiction.”

Sir Antony Beevor is a British military historian, who has published several popular historical works on the Second World War, including Stalingrad and Berlin: The Downfall 1945.

There is no excuse for not writing when it’s non-fiction. It’s not like fiction where people get writer’s block, which sometimes is as much psychosomatic as anything else.

What I’ve learned: Antony Beevor | Esquire

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As a child, Antony Beevor had a strong desire to join the army. Born in Kensington, London, Beevor was afflicted with Perthes disease — a hip joint condition that affects children between the ages of three and 11 — which had the young boy in crutches for years.

After attending Abberley Hall School in Worcestershire, followed by Winchester College in Hampshire, the future military historian went to Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, where he studied under the military historian John Keegan. Beevor received a commission to join the 11th Hussars in 1967, and served in England and Germany before resigning in 1970.

“I joined the army for the wrong reasons and when I realised it was slightly less glorious, it was basically because of that chip on the shoulder from the physical side,” he told ABC News in a 2015 interview. “That made me rethink [what] I obviously wanted and I decided at that point, let’s give it a go as a writer.”

Descending from a long line of writers — his mother is Kinta Beevor, the author of A Tuscan Childhood, who was the daughter of Lina Waterfield, an author and foreign correspondent for The Observer — Beevor threw himself into writing shortly after leaving the military. After a series of published novels, Beevor was convinced by a publisher to venture into writing about military history. His first non-fiction book, The Spanish Civil War, was published in 1982.

Over the next few decades, Beevor dedicated himself to writing about military history, with a particular focus on the Second World War. His 1998 book on the siege of Stalingrad was a huge success — it won the first Samuel Johnson Prize, the Wolfson History Prize and the Hawthornden Prize for Literature and has since been translated into 18 languages.

The follow-up book, Berlin: The Downfall 1945, released in 2002 was equally successful. The book became a number-one best seller in several countries, and Beevor received the first Trustees’ Award of the Longman-History Today Awards for his work on it. Both books have sold almost a combined 3 million copies since their release.

Oral history was not enough. What one needed to do was to integrate history from above with history from below. Only in that way could one show the true consequences of the decisions of leaders and commanders on the fragile lives of ordinary soldiers and civilians caught up in the huge maelstrom of the conflict. So that is why I wrote StalingradThe Fall of Berlin and now D-Day: The Battle for Normandy in the way that I have.

Why I Write: Antony Beevor | Publishers Weekly

Antony Beevor’s daily writing routine

When Beevor is working on a book, he travels from his home in London to the countryside to write in a barn that he had converted into a library. “I always write in the countryside rather than London, so as not to get disturbed,” he told Esquire. “For some reason the phone doesn’t ring down there so often, maybe because people assume I am busy.”

If he’s in research mode, he will start digging through the archives as early on in the day as possible. Beevor is a strong believer that all your research needs to be done before the writing begins. Once his research is completed and he’s done “marshalling the material” he’ll spend some time coming up with the first words of the book.

“There’s the old comment of Hemingway and Garcia Marquez, who say that you should spend three months on the first paragraph and then the rest will write itself,” he said. “There’s an element of truth in that. You’ve got to get the style, the rhythm and the feel of the book clear in your own mind right at the beginning.”

Once he’s ready to start writing, Beevor’s daily routine follows as such: “I usually start writing by 8:30am, take an hour off for a walk and also a quick snooze after lunch. Then I’ll work until about 7:30pm. When it’s going well, you’ve just got to keep pushing on. There may be bad days but there is always work to be done.”

Writing in the Beevor household is usually a family affair. His wife, Artemis Cooper, is a biographer and has her own study in their spot in Kent, and when their daughter comes down to work on her PhD, she’ll join the historian in the barn.

The days of sharpening your pencil have long passed! I think there’s a certain amount of truth in the advice that it helps if you’ve got a good run; and you should really follow that run. I think it is so old-fashioned how writers in the 1930s would write 2000 words in a morning and then go and play golf in the afternoon or something like that. I just can’t imagine that at all. It doesn’t work for me. I find you’ve got to follow a winning streak, just like a novelist in a way. It always helps if you know exactly what you’re going to do the following morning: you’re straight into it and you’re carrying on. I mean momentum is absolutely vital; there is no doubt about that.

Interview with Antony Beevor | Chalke Valley History Festival

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