How Literature Saved My Life, is out now, explains a day in the life of a writer.

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By Kate Gavino
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What's a typical day like for you? 

Water is crucial. Swimming is a big thing for me. Shower, bath, swimming — I don't see how anyone can write without water falling on their head. I don't think I write a word without being in the water most of the day. Luckily I live in Seattle so you've got a lot of water falling on your head. More seriously, I do think for better or worse I have evolved a relatively specific practice where, generally, my books start by mapping scenes with what strikes me as a metaphor that explains the world. Some huge idea which isn't necessarily brilliant so much as a kind of holding tank.

For instance, I want to write a book about mortality, or about the worship of celebrity, or about something called reality, or race. Some giant thing — sex, you know, some huge thing that I can think about for several years. And I am seized by this grandiose metaphor that everything tucks into everything I read, everything I write, everything I hear about. It can just build this endless ball of wax. I get sort of seized by some big thing that you really can't fake. I had my horrible back woes, and so I got obsessed with mortality. I was a basketball fan for a while so I was obsessed with race. I was watching too many movies and shows I got obsessed with celebrity.

I just endlessly write stuff, often for many years, just note taking, researching, reading, writing and just sort of build what I call a kind of cutting field. Hundreds of pages, sometimes a thousand pages of just stuff, 95% of which I'll throw out. But I will start to comb the few hundred paragraphs that actually have some traction form and then I will sometimes either literally or figuratively color code the different passages with different thematic patterns. I will try to put like minded passages with like minded passages and then try to weave the passages into something that has momentum.

The challenge of my work is that I write literary collage, I mean every book I have written in the last fifty years is a kind of montage of different materials. Photographs, typography, reportage, philosophical meditation, data - and a big challenge is trying to make every paragraph as alive as I can make it and have the book have a subtle momentum. No plot, but a lot of intellectual and emotional momentum.

transcribed by Alta Swyers