Several times recently I was asked what it feels like to begin a new book. I struggled for an answer until I remembered something: Years ago I was sitting in the completely empty living room of the new apartment we’d rented and in which we still live today. The movers were coming tomorrow to bring the furniture and other stuff. I had come to check things out a day early just in case something needed attention. After making sure all was okay, I sat down in the middle of the living room floor and looked around for a long time. The wooden floors had recently been refinished and the place smelled strongly of wax. The walls were newly painted white. Nothing else was there. What I remember was how deeply satisfying it was to sit in that empty room, knowing in a day it would fill up with the furniture, objects, things of several peoples’ lives. This was going to be home for at least a few years. Empty now, it was something in between— home but not yet. Ours but not quite. Virginal. Pure, but undoubtedly the apartment my family wanted.
That is what it is like for me to begin a new novel. You’ve chosen a place to live for the next year or more but it has nothing inside it yet. Only the walls, the floors and the windows. Because you have created this space, only you can furnish it. But you’re really looking forward to the task, no matter how long it takes. The other day I heard an interview with the writer Junot Diaz who said it took eleven years to write his latest novel. Eleven years, two years, six months— it doesn’t matter. The writer chooses a space to inhabit. Next he will fill it with the best, the *only* furniture he knows how to make or find. If he is lucky and does it well, whoever comes to visit when it is finished will be completely happy with the way he has done it, and if you are really good at it, they will want to live there too.