Frankenstein and Costco: Khaled Hosseini’s Writing Journey – Part II

And The Mountains Echoed

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about Khaled Hosseini’s June 9 visit to northern Colorado. He spoke to an audience of 700 people at the Marriott, detailing his journey from Afghanistan to the U.S., becoming a doctor, and transitioning to best-selling author.

Today, in Part II, I reveal the author’s writing process and what it has to do with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Hosseini said he hates writing a first draft because it’s cumbersome and labor intensive.

“Writers are in many ways like scavengers, picking up ideas anywhere they can,” he said, likening it to assembling Frankenstein’s monster.

He never knows what’s going to happen to the characters in the next scene.

“All my books have been nothing but a series of surprises to me,” he said. “…I love to be surprised by something I never saw coming.”

“The downside is there’s a graveyard of unfinished books,” he said, mentioning the six unfinished novels sitting in a drawer at home. He simply lost interest.

But not all the parts are wasted. Certain lines and paragraphs have a second chance at life.

“I’m able to salvage part of it, and I’ll transplant it into something else,” he said, comparing writing to visiting a junk yard to look for a radiator cap.

His routine, like his prose – which he calls “borderline utilitarian” – is simple. He takes his kids to school, then writes in his home office from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“I close the door and sit, and hope something happens,” he said. “Most of my time, I sit and worry.”

Like most writers, the writing flows some days, and is painful other days.

“I spend most of the day feeling bad nothing is happening,” he said. “There are quite a few of them. They just have to be survived.”

Survived, or seen for what they really are: a signal to stop writing a story that isn’t working, that he lost enthusiasm for a long time ago.

But he can’t imagine writing any other way.

“The reason I don’t outline, I feel confined,” he said, comparing it to the way he likes to travel. “I hate cruises. Everything is planned for you.”

He prefers the opposite: “Just get there and get lost.”

He describes writing this way: “I’m able to mentally descend into a bunker and live there.”

The solitude of that bunker is necessary for protecting himself against one big threat to good writing: thinking about book sales and what would please readers.

“Once you write with those things in mind, it pollutes the whole process,” he said. “You ought to be thinking solely of writing.”

Hosseini sees both the burden and the gift inherent in living the writer’s life, and plans to appreciate all aspects of his dream profession.

Yet the author was frank about the fact he probably won’t write forever.

“At some time, the idea well will run dry,” he said, explaining that a time will come when he won’t enjoy it anymore, when he’ll do nothing but repeat himself while fighting the internal pressure to have something to say.

The act of recording an idea – writing it on a computer, putting it on the screen, and making it into words – changes it: “It’s been diminished. It becomes an approximation” of the idea.

Other times, he’s able to transcribe the idea in its crystallized, unfiltered state.

“It’s a very amazing, euphoric feeling,” he said. “I think the really great writers live in that place all the time.”

Katherine Valdez blogs about author events and the writing life. Receive an email every time a new post is published by entering your email address at www.KatValdezWriter.wordpress.com/blog.

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