Write Now with S. C. Gwynne
How a Pulitzer Prize finalist researches and writes about history
Who Are You?
My name is S. C. Gwynne. I write history and journalism, and live in Austin, Texas.
What Do You Write?
I started by querying magazines, and eventually one of them — Harper’s — bought my idea. The bulk of my career was spent at Time magazine and Texas Monthly. I later began to write histories, and that is pretty much what I do now, full time. I very much enjoy the freedom to do that. Writing is a difficult process. I would not say I love writing and I actually don’t know any good writers who would say they do, but I would definitely say I love having written, especially if what was written was good.
Where Do You Write?
I write at a fairly large desk in a small study. I use lots of paper, lots of computer printouts of reading and interview notes. I prefer a TUL super smooth medium ballpoint pen, if you must know.
When Do You Write?
What I do involves about 60 percent research and 40 percent actual writing of chapters. So on a given day I am probably researching. Also, one of the most important parts of my writing is doing the outline, which amounts to thinking my way through the article, chapter, book. So on a given day I might be outlining. As for writing pretty prose sentences for publication, when I get around to that I work a 9–6 day. At 6 I am pretty much out of energy. I won’t work long days anymore — I used to work 18-hour days at Time — mainly because I don’t have to. I am entirely deadline-driven.
Why Do You Write?
It’s the only thing I do well. When I finally concluded that, sometime in my 30s, it seemed to make good sense to try to make a living out of it, which I have done now for 35 years. My favorite place to be is out in some godsforsaken place in the middle of nowhere, in a place no other writer wants to be, working on an original idea that no one else has.
How Do You Overcome Writer’s Block?
In my world there is no such thing. I have been a journalist for most of my career, and journalists work on deadlines, and collapsing in tears, or tears mixed with bourbon, in front of a blank screen is not an option. I always have the feeling that whatever I am working on at the moment may mark the turning point in my career when I can no longer write well. But my fear is not that I will not be able to come up with anything. I fear writing badly, not being smart enough to write well. And bourbon does help with that.
Bonus: What Do You Enjoy Doing When Not Writing?
Anything that is the opposite of sitting in front of my computer, hunched over, staring at the screen. Walking, hiking, swimming, exercising, sailing, kayaking, canoeing. I guess I read, too, though this increasingly seems like an illustration of the old “busman’s holiday” story. You know, the busman drives a bus for a living, and then for his vacation he gets on a bus. I read hundreds of books all day long, and then, in a wonderful break from all that, I read books at night. People ask “what is on your bedside table,” and I tell them “about 175–225 books. Shall I start naming them for you?”