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#NANOWrMo: Authors and Editors on Writing: Ian Jack

It’s that time of the year again– NaNoWrMo. Can you finish a book within a month? Maybe. Maybe you’re human and cannot. But, for those of you who are going to give it a try, The Ladies Compartment has asked some of the best writers and editors we know for some handy advice.

This time, we sat down with Ian Jack, a prolific writer, journalist, and editor.



Born in North-West England, Ian began his career as a British journalist for Glasgow Herald in 1965. Since then he’s edited the Sunday Independent and Granta, the literary magazine. He’s also the author of four books including a personal favourite Before The Oil Ran Out, published by Random House in 1997. He currently writes regularly for the Guardian.

Where do you get most of your ideas?:

From reading books, watching films, conversations, the news media, and my memory.

Where (as in physical locality) and when (what time of day) do you get your writing done?

Most of it in the early morning. Depending on how close the deadline is, I can start as early as 4 am.

Do you have a first line already composed in your mind before you start writing?

Well, you have to start somewhere, and the first sentence is an excellent place to start, even if it eventually becomes the third sentence or the seventeenth sentence or no sentence at all.

How often do you write?

Not as often as I should. About 2/3 times a week. Occasionally more.


Any particular things or beverages or snacks you like to have near you as you write?

Chewing gum and tea. For a while, I replaced the chewing gum with raw carrots and may go back to that again.

Have you held other jobs while working on your manuscript?

Yes, for a long time I did more – much more – editing than writing.

What did you do to keep the work-work-personal life balance?

I try to walk 10,000 steps a day. I rarely work on the weekends, and take quite a few holidays.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever heard?

Never wait for ‘inspiration’ to strike. Get going. Write something, however awkward or banal, and then go back to improve it.

Who’s your worst critic, and what would you say to them if you were sure they’d never hear it?

I like to think I’m my worst critic. What I say to myself as a last desperate measure is, ‘It’s probably not as bad as you think.’


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