How I write: Jim Lehrer
Published: April 2, 2004
|Jim Lehrer, the award-winning anchor of The NewsHour on PBS who has also managed to write 14 novels, is a telling reminder of some oft-heard advice: the value of writing at least a little bit every day. In his case, roughly an hour a day, seven days a week, is enough to get his novels done. Lehrer, 70, has developed stories around a lovestruck bus driver, a modern-day investigation of Civil War remains, and an ex-POW's chance discovery in the 1990s of his torturer. Lehrer and his wife, novelist Kate Lehrer, live in Washington, D.C., and West Virginia. They have three daughters.|
Credits: Include Flying Crows (due out this month); No Certain Rest (2002); White Widow (1997); two novels that have been made into movies, The Last Debate (1996) and Viva Max! (1966); a mystery series; two memoirs; and three produced plays.
Well, this is something I've been doing since I was 17; this isn't an add-on to my life. I think if I didn't write, I'd go bonkers. It is just who I am and what I am. I have no choice anymore. I tell people I can write at 5 o'clock in the morning, hung over, hanging by my thumbs, underwater. I love it, the whole process.
There's no particular way for me to get an idea for a novel. With White Widow, when I was going to a little junior college in South Texas in the 1950s, I worked in the Trailways bus depot [and was immersed in] the whole world of bus drivers. It fascinated me then, and it fascinated me many years later when I sat down to write. I just wanted to write a novel about bus drivers, and the story just kind of grew.
No Certain Rest came about because we have a house up in the Panhandle of West Virginia, about 20 minutes from the Antietam battlefield. I had never been interested in the Civil War, but my wife and I would go over there to ride bikes or walk. I'm not somebody who hears voices, but eventually I began to read the [historical] tablets. I got taken up in the story. I've always been interested in modern-day fallout from events that happened years before. So the whole thing just kind of built from that.
That's the exciting thing about writing fiction, for me--that you can begin anywhere but you never know where you're going to end up.
|Finding the time:|
The only way it works for me is to do a little bit every day, and I do it early in the morning.
I do my writing at the office, most of the time, except on weekends, when I work at home or at our place in West Virginia. I arrive at the office anywhere between 8 and 8:30, and I work [on my books] until the editorial process for The NewsHour begins with the first editorial meeting at 10:15 a.m. I take a nap every day here in the office, so I'm also able to work sometimes when I get home in the evening.
It's not a rigid time thing; it's just I work whenever I have time, and it's an integral part of my life. I'm working on a book all the time.
When I'm working on a novel, it's like having a low-grade fever. It's with me all the time. I may be doing something on Iraq or whatever [for The NewsHour], but once that is over, I can quickly get my mind back into the fiction I'm writing. And I'm very fortunate to be able to do that; a lot of people can't. That's what makes it possible for me to do [the books].
Keep bottom on chair. You can have the greatest ideas in the world; you can have an awful lot to say; you can have terrific talent. But if you can't keep your bottom on the chair and write, nothing is ever going to happen. Period.
--Posted April 2, 2004