Writing Routines

Ian Fleming’s Writing Routine: “If I just wait for genius to arrive from the skies, it just doesn’t arrive.”

Ian Fleming was a British author, journalist and naval intelligence officer, best-known for writing the James Bond novels, which have since spawned a multi-billion dollar entertainment franchise.

I find that unless I stick to a routine, if I just wait for genius to arrive from the skies, it just doesn’t arrive. I just get on with the work.

Desert Island Discs – Ian Fleming, 1963

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For Ian Fleming, being the author of the James Bond novels wasn’t even the most exciting part of his life. The renowned British writer was a naval intelligence officer during the Second World War, and was involved in planning Operation Goldeneye, an Allied monitoring and sabotage mission focused on Spain and their possible alliance with the Axis powers. Fleming was also responsible for the planning and oversight of two intelligence units, 30 Assault Unit and T-Force.

Just before Fleming ended his service in August 1952, he began writing a spy novel at his house, nicknamed Goldeneye, in Saint Mary Parish, Jamaica. Casino Royale was published in 1953 via Jonathan Cape and the success of the book paved the way for eleven more novels and two short story collections, all written in quick succession in the last years of Fleming’s life.

During his novelist career, Fleming maintained a regimented work schedule that saw the British author write every day, with the target of 2,000 words per day. In an essay he wrote, titled “How to Write a Thriller,” which appeared in the May 1963 issue of Books and Bookmen, Fleming gave readers a glimpse of his daily writing routine.

So far as the physical act of writing is concerned, the method I have devised is this. I do it all on the typewriter, using six fingers. The act of typing is far less exhausting than the act of writing, and you end up with a more or less clean manuscript. The next essential is to keep strictly to a routine—and I mean strictly. I write for about three hours in the morning—from about 9:30 till 12:30—and I do another hour’s work between 6 and 7 in the evening. At the end of this I reward myself by numbering the pages and putting them away in a spring-back folder. The whole of this four hours of daily work is devoted to writing narrative.

Books and Bookmen, May 1963

Fleming was famed for writing quickly and never letting the editing process slow his output down. The main priority for him was getting the words on the page. “I don’t even pause from writing to choose the right word or to verify spelling or a fact,” he explained. “All this can be done when your book is finished.”

This daily schedule of producing 2,000 words a day enabled Fleming to finish a first draft of his novels within approximately six weeks. After that, he would spend a week going through and correcting the errors as well as rewriting passages. Then the manuscript was sent off to his publisher.

He kept up this writing regimen for the later years of his life, including the 2,000 words a day target. In a 2008 New York Times article British journalist, John Fisher Burns, described Fleming’s daily writing routine on his Goldeneye estate.

Perhaps because of the difficulty he found in resisting life’s indulgences, he adopted a strict writing routine in his last 12 years, the period in which he wrote more than a dozen Bond novels that spawned the multibillion-dollar film franchise. Rising early for a swim in the aquamarine waters in the cove below his idyllic Jamaican retreat, Goldeneye, Fleming tapped away at his Remington portable typewriter with six fingers for three hours in the morning and an hour in the afternoon — 2,000 words a day, a completed novel in two months, all the while keeping up the sybaritic lifestyle that led Noël Coward, a frequent guest at Goldeneye and no puritan himself, to describe the Fleming household as “golden ear, nose and throat.”

Remembering Fleming, Ian Fleming | The New York Times

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