Graham Greene’s Writing Process

Graham Greene’s Writing Process

Find out more about English author, Graham Greene’s writing process.

Graham Greene (born 2 October 1904, died 3 April 1991) was an English author, playwright, short story writer, essayist, and literary critic.

Despite the pessimistic tone of his work, Greene was widely read. He was able to use the thriller genre to explore deeper issues and he used contemporary political settings to explore life’s moral ambiguities. William Golding described Greene as ‘the ultimate chronicler of twentieth-century man’s consciousness and anxiety’.

He was known as an outstanding storyteller, whose attention to detail, ease with his subject matter, realistic dialogue, and fast-paced narrative drew many readers to his books.

Greene was one of the few authors able to combine literary acclaim with widespread popularity and good earnings. His financial success enabled him to live comfortably, and he associated with writers like T.S. Eliot, Evelyn Waugh, Ian Fleming, and Noel Coward.

His novels include The Power and the GloryThe End of the AffairThe Third ManThe Quiet AmericanOur Man in Havana, and Brighton Rock.

Graham Greene’s Writing Process

In The End of the Affair, Graham Greene described what was in fact his own method of working.

‘Over twenty years I have probably averaged five hundred words a day for five days a week. I can produce a novel in a year, and that allows time for revision and the correction of the typescript. I have always been very methodical, and when my quota of work is done I break off, even in the middle of a scene.

Every now and then during the morning’s work I count what I have done and mark off the hundreds on my manuscript. No printer need make a careful cast-off of my work, for there on the front page is marked the figure — 83,764.

When I was young not even a love affair would alter my schedule. A love affair had to begin after lunch, and however late I might be in getting to bed — as long as I slept in my own bed — I would read the morning’s work over and sleep on it. …

So much of a novelist’s writing, as I have said, takes place in the unconscious; in those depths the last word is written before the first word appears on paper. We remember the details of our story, we do not invent them.’

Source: William Landay

Writer, Michael Korda confirmed this process when he wrote the following in The New Yorker:

‘Greene’s self-discipline was such that, no matter what, he always stopped at five hundred words, even if it left him in the middle of a sentence. It was as if he brought to writing the precision of a watchmaker, or perhaps it was that in a life full of moral uncertainties and confusion he simply needed one area in which the rules, even if self-imposed, were absolute. Whatever else was going on, his daily writing, like a religious devotion, was sacred and complete. Once the daily penance of five hundred words was achieved, he put the notebook away and didn’t think about it again until the next morning.’

As he got older, Greene found it harder to maintain this disciplined routine. At the age of 66, he said: ‘In the old days, at the beginning of a book, I’d set myself 500 words a day, but now I’d put the mark to about 300 words.’

Source for image: FOTO:FORTEPAN / Magyar Hírek folyóirat, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons,_1975_Fortepan_84697.jpg

 by Amanda Patterson

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Posted on: 2nd October 2019