One Way to Write Well: Pull a Wool Cap Down Over Your Eyes

By Jack Limpert

I once wrote about the strange things writers will do to get the words flowing. Truman Capote wrote in bed with cigarettes and coffee handy, Graham Greene took an amphetamine twice a day, Thomas Wolfe wrote naked, Oliver Sacks went for a swim before writing. That same month, Kent Haruf, the novelist, died and these were the first and last grafs of his New York Times obit:

Kent Haruf pulled a wool cap over his eyes when he sat down at his manual typewriter each morning so he could “write blind,” fully immersing himself in the fictitious small town in eastern Colorado where he set a series of quiet, acclaimed novels, including “Plainsong,” a 1999 best seller. Mr. Haruf often wrote a chapter a day, most recently in a prefabricated shed in the backyard of his home in Salida, Colo., where he died on Sunday at 71.

Punctuation, capitalization, paragraphs — they waited for the second draft. The first draft usually came quickly, a stream of imagery and dialogue that ran to the margins, single-spaced.

The ring of the return oriented him, as did the world he saw in his mind’s eye: the community he called Holt, a composite of towns in Colorado where he had lived as a boy….

After Mr. Haruf finished his first drafts, usually well before lunch, he would pull back his cap and take a look.

“He only got off home row a couple of times and typed gobbledygook,” Mrs. Haruf recalled. “That’s not bad for all those years.”

Plainsong was Haruf’s best-known novel with Eventide a much-admired sequel. I loved his last novel, Our Souls at Night, published in 2015 after his death.

Also worth reading is The Making of a Writer, published by Granta, which has Haruf telling his remarkable life story.

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