Friday, December 15, 2006

How Richard Dawkins writes

Richard Dawkins sat down to lunch with the science editor of the Financial Times with his new book, The God Delusion, as the centerpiece of their conversation.

The article that resulted says very little about the book, a bit more about why religion is thriving in the U.S. and not in Europe, and these few paragraphs about how Dawkins writes:

While we wait for our meal, Dawkins tells me how much he enjoys writing. The God Delusion was much less work than its predecessor, The Ancestor’s Tale, he says. The latter was a major work of evolutionary biology, which took five years to write with a full-time research assistant, tracing back the ancestry of life from modern humans to the first microbes almost four billion years ago.

Dawkins gets most pleasure from the final stages of authorship. “I enjoy the perfecting, titivating stages more than the blank screen at the beginning,” he says. “I do a lot of cutting and editing - it is gratifying to find something I can cut without losing the cadences of the passage.”

He is not the sort of author who sends his typescript out to a wide circle of friends and colleagues to read before submitting it to the publisher. “Writing by committee usually dulls a book,” he says. “But I do find that one or two very compatible souls can be extremely helpful critics, can be a second eye.”

Dawkins’s most important writing assistant is his wife, the actress Lalla Ward, “who reads the whole book aloud to me at different stages of development. Hearing my own words coming from another voice is very revealing. If she has trouble finding the right emphasis, then I know I have to made a change”, he says. He recommends the practice to other authors, even if the reader does not have as beautiful and well- trained a voice as Ward’s.

Click here to read the entire article.

Read more about The God Delusion here; and here I took a stab at applying the "page 69 test" to Dawkins' previous book, The Ancestor's Tale.

--Marshal Zeringue