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Advice from a Nobel prizewinner

In 1981, Peter H. Stone of The Paris Review sat down with Gabriel García Márquez in his studio in Mexico City to discuss the art of fiction. The in-depth interview is fascinating for anyone interested in the Nobel Prize winner’s life and work. But it is perhaps of greatest interest to aspiring writers, who can learn much from García Márquez’s practical, down-to-earth advice.

I re-read the interview when I was working on the anthology of personal essays, Was Gabo an Irishman?

The man Colombians affectionately call Gabo had so many great pearls of wisdom for writers that I thought I had to share my favourites here.

On believing in your work.

“In previous attempts to write One Hundred Years of Solitude, I tried to tell the story without believing in it. I discovered that what I had to do was believe in them myself and write them with the same expression with which my grandmother told them: with a brick face.”

On writing what you know.

“If I had to give a young writer some advice I would say to write about something that has happened to him.”

On writing for an audience.

“In general I think you usually do write for someone. When I’m writing I’m always aware that this friend is going to like this, or that another friend is going to like that paragraph or chapter, always thinking of specific people. In the end, all books are written for your friends.”

On the importance of opening strong.

“One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent many months on a first paragraph, and once I get it, the rest just comes out very easily. In the first paragraph you solve most of the problems with your book. The theme is defined, the style, the tone. At least in my case, the first paragraph is a kind of sample of what the rest of the book is going to be.”

On creating credibility.

“That’s a journalistic trick which you can also apply to literature. For example, if you say that there are elephants flying in the sky, people are not going to believe you. But if you say that there are four hundred and twenty-five elephants flying in the sky, people will probably believe you. One Hundred Years of Solitude is full of that sort of thing. That’s exactly the technique my grandmother used.”

On taking care of yourself.

“To be a good writer you have to be absolutely lucid at every moment of writing, and in good health.”

“I’m very much against the romantic concept of writing which maintains that the act of writing is a sacrifice, and that the worse the economic conditions or the emotional state, the better the writing. I think you have to be in a very good emotional and physical state. Literary creation for me requires good health, and the Lost Generation understood this. They were people who loved life.”

“One thing that Hemingway wrote that greatly impressed me was that writing for him was like boxing. He took care of his health and his well-being. Faulkner had a re

putation of being a drunkard, but in every interview that he gave he said that it was impossible to write one line when drunk. Hemingway said this too.”

“Bad readers have asked me if I was drugged when I wrote some of my works. But that illustrates that they don’t know anything about literature or drugs.”

On the importance of hard work.

“Writing something is almost as hard as making a table. With both you are working with reality, a material just as hard as wood. Both are full of tricks and techniques. Basically very little magic and a lot of hard work are involved. And as Proust, I think, said, it takes ten per cent inspiration and ninety per cent perspiration.”

Read the full Paris Review interview.

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