Arts & Entertainment

Amor Towles, one of the best American novelists on the phases of his writing process and the importance of curiosity

April 13, 2022

Amor Towles, one of the best American novelists on the phases of his writing process and the importance of curiosity

Amor Towles

New York Times Best-Selling Author

On the latest Walker Webcast, we were joined by three-time best-selling novelist, Amor Towles to discuss his non-linear career path.

On the latest Walker Webcast, we were joined by three-time best-selling novelist, Amor Towles. His works, Rules of Civility, A Gentleman in Moscow, and The Lincoln Highway, have been translated into 30 languages with more than five million copies sold. Amor and Willy discussed his career shift from investment banking to his long-time passion for fiction writing, the phases of his writing process, and lessons learned along the way.

Amor is a New York Times bestselling author, with three novels and a passion for Russian Literature. He is also a Yale graduate, former investment banker and tennis pro. He was an avid reader and writer throughout his childhood, so pursuing an MFA in English was a natural choice. After graduating, he was writing fiction, stuck inside and broke. His artist friends were working survival jobs while trying to pursue their dreams on the side. Amor observed that they were often too emotionally and physically drained from those endeavors to actively work on their craft. He knew he needed a job that was fulfilling and gave him a reserve of energy to write. Coming from a family of bankers, he transitioned to that field.

Eventually, Amor was able to retire from his firm to write full time, but his first novel didn’t get him there. He says he learned a lot from that failure and discusses that with Willy. When he wrote his first novel, he’d been writing fiction for almost 20 years. However, his work up to that point was mostly short stories. Writing a novel is a much different endeavor and Amor says he didn’t have a dedicated plan or outline and it showed in the work. When working on the next novel, he made sure to plan accordingly and he gave himself a year to write the first draft. He wrote one chapter per week and continued forward no matter what.

Then Amor explains that there are many different steps to writing a novel. Each step is equally important, but not always equally enjoyed. His creative process is fun and exploding with excitement, and in outlining he enjoys laying out his plot and discovering where he’s going to reveal secrets. For him, editing feels a lot more like manual labor. All parts however, must be given importance. Amor does not share anything until he’s done at least one cleaning edit, then the draft goes to about 6 close people, including his editors and his wife, and they give feedback for the next draft.

Next, Willy asks about Amor’s research process. Amor explains that he does not do any research until he’s done with the creative process. He wants to imagine the story fully, and then when the draft is completed, he will research and revise in accordance with the book he’s already written. With his novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, set in the Metropolitan Hotel in Russia, he didn’t visit the hotel until the draft was completed. Once it was, he moved into the hotel and researched the many famous people who stayed in the hotel and the writings they authored about their time there. Similar to his research philosophy, Amor doesn’t use a dictionary or thesaurus. He tries to develop a voice and vocabulary that matches the narrator and credits his vocabulary to his imagination and avid reading.

When writing his characters, he tries to listen in and imagine their voice. Hearing their voice and inner thoughts will start to come to him, even if those words never make it to the page, they inform the character and their development. He considers what they think, see, and feel. This is more important to him than the research. Amor then is able to research and fill the story in with what he finds and inform it that way. However, some things still creep through. He receives plenty of feedback about his books and is known for fixing some historical inaccuracies when the books are published in paperback.

As the episode ends, Willy asks Amor about the fame that comes with being a bestselling author.


Learn more about Amor Towles and his books
Check out Walter & Dunlop’s website.

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