“I Don’t Use Notebooks. I Use Shirt Boards.”

Gay Talese's outline for "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold," 1966, written on a shirt board.

INTERVIEWER

How do you write?

TALESE

Longhand at first. Then I use the typewriter.

INTERVIEWER

You never write directly onto the computer?

TALESE

Oh no, I couldn’t do that. I want to be forced to work slowly because I don’t want to get too much on paper. By the end of the morning I might have a page, which I will pin up above my desk. After lunch, around five o’clock, I’ll go back to work for another hour or so.

INTERVIEWER

Surely there must be some days in the middle of a project, when you’re really going, that you write more than a single page.

TALESE

No, there aren’t.

INTERVIEWER

But your books are so long.

TALESE

I take a long time. I have published relatively little given how long I have been working. Over fifty-five years I’ve only written five long books, two short ones, and four collections. It’s not that many.

INTERVIEWER

Is that because you spend a lot of time editing?

TALESE

Not really. I type and I retype. When I think I’m getting close, that’s when I put it on the computer. Once it’s on the screen I make very few changes. It’s the reporting that takes so much time.

INTERVIEWER

Do you use notebooks when you are reporting?

TALESE

I don’t use notebooks. I use shirt boards.

INTERVIEWER

You mean the cardboard from dry-cleaned shirts?

TALESE

Exactly. I cut the shirt board into four parts and I cut the corners into round edges, so that they can fit in my pocket. I also use full shirt boards when I’m writing my outlines. I’ve been doing this since the fifties.

INTERVIEWER

So all day long you’re writing your observations on shirt boards?

TALESE

Yes, and at night I type out my notes. It is a kind of journal. But not only my notes—also my observations.

From a must-read 2009 Paris Review interview with Gay Talese

Related post(s): “The Species of Tailoring Is Threatened by the Outside World.”

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One response to ““I Don’t Use Notebooks. I Use Shirt Boards.”

  1. Pingback: Gay Talese interview | dv8-designs

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