Writing Routines

Salman Rushdie’s Writing Routine: “I don’t have any strange, occult practices.”

Salman Rushdie is a British-American novelist and essayist of Indian descent, best-known for his novels such as Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses.

I don’t have any strange, occult practices. I just get up, go downstairs, and write.

Salman Rushdie, The Art of Fiction No. 186 | Paris Review

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Early on in his career, Salman Rushdie worked as a copywriter at advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather. He was responsible for coming up with slogans like “irresistibubble” for Aero and “Naughty but Nice” for Fresh Cream Cakes.

The British-American novelist credits his copywriting background in forming discipline and producing work on time. “If you’ve got to produce work by Thursday at 2:30 because that’s when the client is coming in, you learn how to get it done,” he told the Harvard Business Review.

Decades later into his writing career, Rushdie still carries this 9-to-5 approach to his work. “You just go do it. It doesn’t matter whether you’re feeling good that day,” he said. “I don’t think writers or artists can afford to have a ‘creative temperament’ or to wait for inspiration to descend. You have to simply sit there and make yourself do it.”

“I can sit down at my desk every day and do my work, never give myself permission not to do it. Once your mind understands that it has no excuses, it’s remarkable how it begins to play along. I’m maybe unusual among writers in that I’m not a recluse.”

Born on June 19, 1947, in British India, Rushdie was raised in Bombay, before moving to England to attend the Rugby School in Rugby, Warwickshire, West Midlands and then King’s College, University of Cambridge. Some time after graduating from Cambridge, Rushdie made the permanent move to the UK.

It was at Ogilvy & Mather that he started his writing career, publishing his literary debut Grimus in 1975, followed by Midnight’s Children in 1981. It was the latter novel that catapulted Rushdie into the spotlight and enabled him to pursue his writing full-time. Midnight’s Children won both the Booker Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in the same year it was released, and went on to sell over a million copies in the UK.

The moments at which I’m happiest are when I’m writing a book and I can feel it’s working. It’s exhilarating—much more so than publishing a book. Actually, as time goes by, I dread the moment of publication more and more.

Life’s Work: An Interview with Salman Rushdie | Harvard Business Review

Salman Rushdie’s daily writing routine

On a typical writing day, upon waking up in the morning Rushdie heads downstairs, reads through what he wrote the day before, and then immediately starts writing. It’s only after he’s done some writing that he’ll allow himself to read the newspaper, open the mail, call people, or even have a shower. “I’ve learned that I need to give it the first energy of the day,” he told The Paris Review.

In a 2017 interview with Hindustan Times about The Golden House (published that same year), Rushdie described his daily writing routine while working on the novel.

I wake up, dive into the book, work until I’m exhausted, then stop. And of course I’m constantly revising, re-reading, subtracting, adding, and that goes on until the day the book goes to press – it certainly did in this case. I don’t show anybody anything until I think I’ve finished. ‘Finishing’ to me means realising that my revisions aren’t improving the work, but merely changing it; and becoming aware that my creative energy for the work has dimmed. A novel, Randall Jarrell said, is a long piece of writing that has something wrong with it; perfection is an impossible dream.

Award-winning author Salman Rushdie reveals how he writes | Hindustan Times

While Rushdie admittedly does have a very social life outside of writing (”If you read the press you might get the impression that all I ever do is go to parties.”), after going out to dinner with his friends, the author will come home and read through what he wrote during the day before going to bed.

When he was a younger writer, Rushdie found that he could write quickly and easily, but most of his output required a lot of re-writing. As an older man, he now writes slower, but revises as he goes along.

“I used to get a lot more written in a day than I do now—four pages, five pages,” he explained. “Now I’m doing 400 or 500 words. The difference is that the work used to need a lot of revision. Now I write much less, but it’s closer to a finished piece.”

On the topic of knowing when a particular book is finished, Rushdie cites exhaustion as a key signifier. “It’s not that I’m physically tired, but my imagination is,” he said. “There’s a point at which you’re not making it better; you’re just making it different.”

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