The Process, Or Failed Job Interviews of a Novelist

Red MenNeed a Thursday afternoon break? Every wondered how writing a novel is like a job interview? We’ve got the answer. Gollancz is delighted to share with you a special blog post from Matthew de Abaitua the author of 

She asks me, “What is your process?”

“What do you mean?” I reply.

“What is your process?”

“It depends on what I’m doing. If I’m making a bacon sandwich, I use one type of process involving bacon and bread. If I’m writing a novel, I use a different process. Not that I would necessarily think of novel-writing as a process.”

She looks bored. The job interview is not going well. And I always try so hard. But I can’t answer her question.

What is your process?

I say to her that writing fiction is not a process. It begins with an image that aches with luminosity.

“I saw a tall soft robot walking down the street in Hackney.”


“The image was so vivid it was real enough. From that I wrote a novel about an incursion of the future into the present. About work and technology.”

“What about them?”

“That they are both great?”

She shakes her head. What I am saying is wide of the mark. She expects, she requires a different answer to this one, if I am to get the job. No, I am not going to get the job. I see that. Another failed job interview. I’ve never successfully passed a job interview, and it’s not through want of trying. I go to lots of job interviews. They’re a chance for me to get all this shit off my chest.

I try again.

I say, “My process begins with dreamt things, imaginary things, and then I use writer’s craft to animate those visions: and I am constantly trafficking between the luminous dreamt image and the forms that I craft, to check that one is accurately rendering the other. It’s more of an oscillation than a process. There is control and there is the deliberate abdication of control at key moments. There is the reasoned working through of a hypothesis at the same time as a willful strangeness, you see, that has to be cultivated if the work is to feel free and unexpected, and not merely generic and obvious. Rationality is just one arrow in the writer’s quiver.”

She perks up, “Excuse me?”

“Being reasonable, planning ahead, being sensible is just one approach.”

“You said, ‘quiver’?”

“It’s the word for what an archer keeps his arrows in. Sometimes you reach behind and pull out… an arrow of desire!”

“And how would you apply that process to your work at this company?”

“I’d take out the arrow of hardworkingness?”

“What are your metrics of success?”

“In novel writing?”

“In novel writing or in the making of bacon sandwiches, whichever you prefer.”

“The novel should be a continuous dream for the reader. So says John Gardner in his The Art of Fiction.”

“What about sales?”

“Sales are not a good metric because however low you think your sales are going to be, they are always lower. If I went on sales, I’d give up. I suppose what I’m saying is I don’t have any metrics of success – or just success –  other than how I feel about something and my objective assessment about whether it is good writing or not. And good writing can be judged objectively. As can bacon sandwiches.”

“You don’t have a clear process,nor do you have a way of measuring what you do. In real terms, then, you don’t do anything.”

“But I can show you the outcomes.”

“The outcomes?”

“Sorry, the books that I’ve written.”

“At this company we are interested in content process and quantifiable results of that content. All our content produces a return on our client’s investment. Can you calculate the return to investment on your novels?”

“The return to me? To write a novel, one must first decouple the correlation between time invested and money earned.”

“How much does writing cost you, then?”

“I’ve just finished a novel. It has taken a year of unpaid labour. The Red Men took one or two days a week for four years.”

“I admire your dedication,” she says in a flat tone.

“What is your process?” I ask.

“Every day we use the matrix to plot which content we will upload into the content buckets, and then we use the matrix to cycle through the content in terms that are optimised according to social metrics and Google Analytics.”

“Content buckets?”

“They are not real buckets.”

“Do you think your staff might be more motivated if you used a less pejorative term than ‘content bucket’?”

She shrugs. I look through the glass window into the open plan office. Various people in headphones, alone before their screens, tip-tapping. Could be anywhere, doing anything. But at least they are getting paid.

I try to lighten the mood, “I suppose I could call my books ‘content satchels’. But they are more like compressed time. When I see someone flick through the pages, I just think of all the days I spent at my desk writing.”

“Days you weren’t being paid. What else do you do? For money?”

“I give talks.”

“I give talks too,” she says.


“Like most people, I just scrape the content of my talk off other people’s blogs, you know, and sort of paste it together in Powerpoint. Is that what you do too?”

“No, it isn’t.”

She looks at her phone. She does not look up again.

I leave the office. I am a man in the wrong place and time, a kind of pollution, something old that has washed up on a pristine beach. I should have dyed my hair. I shouldn’t have worn the suit.


Matthew de Abaitua is the author of The Red Men, currently being filmed by Shynola. 


Matthew De Abaitua – A Mix for the Lifted Brow by The Lifted Brow on Mixcloud