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Chaotic Conditions: Writing a Novel on a Tour Bus

April 17, 2010

If what the fiction writers say is true, writing a novel is most often a demanding endeavor. Novelists agree on not only the immense spiritual and intellectual effort which one exerts in writing a good book; they also concur on the difficulties common to the strictly practical side of their trade.

First of all, there’s the staggering chunk of time needed to see a novel through to completion. Dostoevsky spent two years penning The Brothers Karamozov. Fitzgerald toiled away for three on The Great Gatsby. For these, and most other fiction writers, finding the time to compose is an art in itself. Faulkner stole away to his desk in the evenings after his family had gone to bed, hunkering down in a special, out-of-the-way room of his house, where he kept a small bed for those nights when typing kept him up toward dawn.

But finding writing time is only one half of the novelist’s dilemma. There is also, as Faulkner’s story suggests, the problem of finding a place where the writing can get done with minimal distractions. Hemingway insisted on having a sparsely furnished room with only a desk, a chair and a typewriter– anything else might draw his attention away from the task at hand. Proust did his writing in a cork-lined room where his concentration might not be broken by a disturbance from his housemates.


Nick Cave, the Australian songwriter turned novelist, has managed to complete his second piece of fiction under working conditions that would likely have proved impossible for the aforementioned writers. The Death of Bunny Munro, the story of a sordid character whom Cave calls “a monster we [men] recognize ourselves in,” was written while on tour with his rock band The Bad Seeds. In a recent interview with Steve Paulson of To the Best of Our Knowledge, Cave sets out to explode this idea, held up as common knowledge among most novelists and rock n’ rollers alike, that good writing is best done in uninterrupted solitude:

The kind of wisdom in rock n’ roll is that you can’t do anything creative on tour. You can do the show in the evening, and the rest of the time you’re a kind of vegetable that’s sort of chaperoned from place to place, and city to city, and then you go and do [another] show. I wondered if that was actually true…and I started writing this novel on the bus– on the tour bus– under unbelievably chaotic conditions. It was an amazing way to write, actually. It made that tour very different from any other tour I’d been on before.

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