Writing Advice From a (Newly Minted) Nobel Winner

Kazuo Ishiguro wrote the bulk of The Remains of the Day in four weeks. All it took was extreme dedication—and a willingness to be terrible.

Kazuo Ishiguro - Photo by David Levenson / Getty Images

It’s tempting to talk of writing—the art of it, the craft of it, the lifestyle of it—as a kind of romance. Writers of serious literature (according to, at least, many writers of serious literature) do not simply type stark words onto blank pages; instead, they stare into an abyss and reach into their souls and find, if they are fortunate, the swirling fires of Prometheus. “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect,” Anaïs Nin said, which is beautiful and true and also objectively incorrect: Writing is delicious work, but it is for the most part simply work. It’s often lonely. It’s rarely romantic. (I am not a writer of serious literature, but I am a writer, and I am writing this while sipping stale coffee from a mug that’s in bad need of a wash.) Writing is a craft in the way that carpentry is a craft: There’s art to it, sure, and a certain inspiration required of it, definitely, but for the most part you’re just sawing and sanding and getting dust in your eyes.

Because of all that, it’s refreshing—and it is also a profound public service— when writers of literature use their public platforms not just to celebrate literature, but also to put the creation of literature in its place. And it’s especially refreshing when writers at the highest levels of the field do that. One of them has been Kazuo Ishiguro, the British novelist and the latest winner of the Nobel Prize.

On Thursday, the Nobel Committee announced that Ishiguro is its 2017 laureate for literature—a decision, the Committee noted in its citation, that came in part because the author, “in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.” Almost immediately after the announcement was made, a story from The Guardian, written by Ishiguro himself and published in December of 2014, began circulating on social media. The piece is headlined, “Kazuo Ishiguro: How I Wrote The Remains of the Day in Four Weeks.” And it outlines, in great detail, how, indeed, the author overcame writer’s block—made worse by the banal demands of life itself—to summon the words that would become the novel that remains Ishiguro’s most famous contribution to the literary world.