Around six years ago, German consultant Claus Wechselmann started writing novels, the first of which was published this April. For Claus, writing is an expression of his soul, for which he gladly sacrifices the small amount of free time his demanding career leaves him.
The interview is also available in German.
Please tell us something about yourself and what you’re working on.
I currently am the director of a mid-sized consulting firm, which advises the German public sector. As a student at the FU Berlin, I studied journalism and linguistics, both of which made a big impression on me and my life. Today, I would still describe myself as a neo-structuralist, for which the concepts of “paradigm”, “deconstruction”, and semiotics play a big role. In addition to my career, I am a father of two adult daughters, of whom I am very proud, and who are often sources of inspiration when I am writing stories.
When did you begin writing and what role does it play in your life today?
It was almost exactly six years ago. Since then, it has become something particularly important for me. I set aside at least one hour almost every day for working on a novel (currently my seventh). Writing, for me, is an expression and a mirror of my soul. It is a creative outlet for my imagination and something that fulfills me and from time to time puts me into a state of blissful isolation.
I set aside at least one hour every day for working on a novel.
In April, you published the first of your novels Reingewaschen (“Whitewashed”). Please tell us what it’s about.
Berlin 1984. While going through the estate of his late grandfather, Sebastian finds ten letters written by a former prisoner during the Second World War. He pulls out all the stops to unravel the mystery, attempting to reconstruct the events of the past letter by letter. Yet there is Sebastian’s father, who is trying to hinder his research. Who was his grandfather really? The search for answers leads Sebastian to a secret department of the German administration, whose traces have almost been completely wiped out.
What’s the most difficult part of writing a novel?
I find there are differing aspects. For me, the most difficult part is coming up with a compelling plot that as many readers as possible will find both interesting and plausible. I also have a compulsion to want to include personal reflection, thoughts and world views that can slow down the plot and test the reader’s patience. This is hard to avoid. Finally, it is necessary to match public taste and plug into the zeitgeist and not only follow one’s own desire to express something specific.
Please tell us about the development of the book and which role Ulysses played in this process.
Ulysses is the tool that allows me to focus solely and completely on the writing. For me, writing without complete attention to the task leads to bad results. I especially like that Ulysses is sheet-based, which allows me to think and organize in chapters and sections. At the beginning of a project, I make a lot of notes in order to list out the protagonists and develop them over time. Being able to set up the colors of the editor, and the type and size of the font is very important for me, because I need to have the feeling that I am undisturbed and that I don’t have to manage every aspect of the software.
I start every book with an initial idea, which I develop on a single sheet in Ulysses. Then I crack on and let myself be immersed in the fictive context and then the first characters start to take on their roles. I write almost every day. The sequence of events also depends on my mood; in general, I don’t know every exact detail about what will happen. In Reingewaschen, I set out to write a book about an aspect of Germanness, in which discipline can quickly become an end in itself.
The sequence of events also depends on my mood; in general, I don’t know every exact detail about what will happen.
How easy or difficult was it to find a publishing house for your book? What tips would you give to other authors who are confronted with this challenge?
It is monstrously difficult to find an agent or a publisher. I am also completely convinced that it does not have anything to do with the quality of the author or of his or her work. The publishing sector teeters between commerce and art, aspiration and mass appeal. For me, it went relatively quickly. A small agency liked the language and the plots of two of my books and sent these on to several different publishing houses. At the start, I was told that it would take a long time. Therefore, I was surprised when after only two years a publisher wanted to release one of my two books. Gmeiner is a great publisher, with whom I have enjoyed working from minute one. My advice to anyone who is looking for a publishing house is to spend a lot of time and effort on the synopsis. In addition, the first thirty pages need to be exciting enough and need to leave a good overall impression on the reader. It may be more promising to forcefully look for a publishing house than to convince an agency to take a look at a new author.
Your main profession is as a consultant, which is a very demanding job. How do you find the time to write?
The job is indeed very demanding and does absorb much of my time. We do consulting for the public sector in Germany, which my team and I find very rewarding. I think that I get a lot of ideas for my stories from the day to day life of my profession without ever crossing the line of indiscretion. I enjoy writing very much on the train, train stations, and airports, while I am commuting and traveling for work. I also like to write early in the morning after getting up and, of course, on weekends.
Do you dream about making writing your main profession?
Who wouldn’t? At the moment, making a living from writing seems unlikely. Thus it remains a project for the longer term to devote myself to my stories, that often enthrall me in a way that I really want to bring a plot forward.
How did you find out about Ulysses and what do you especially like about it?
I have known about Ulysses for ages and created my first texts using version 2 of the software. Naturally, I like the program much better today. Above all, it is the feeling of being equipped with a typewriter that I can carry anywhere and just start writing with at any time. I initially discovered Ulysses through an internet search. That must have been six or seven years ago.
I like the feeling of being equipped with a typewriter that I can carry anywhere and just start writing with at any time.
What other programs and tools do you use, and how do they help you with productivity?
I don’t use any other tools for writing. For my job, I work with the well-known programs, of which no one needs more than five percent, and they are still not very intuitive to use. Outside of work, I am an Apple enthusiast and have a long history of past use with said products. It all began with a McIntosh SE30 and Ragtime. The old guy now sits on display like a museum piece in my living room.
What else is essential to keep you productive? Do you work in a special environment or follow a set timetable?
Biorhythms are important. I can really only write when I am relaxed and rested. For me, that is mostly in the mornings. Then comes focus. Unlike many other things I do, I love to lose myself in writing, so much so that it is like I become a character in the story and then there is little space for anything else. The radio can be on, but I don’t really notice it anyway.
As I already mentioned, I like working away from home when I am traveling about. Here is where I really appreciate that Ulysses is available for the iPad, which I use exclusively when I’m not at home. I synchronize the texts over iCloud, which almost always works perfectly. Aside from all that, I write best when I am alone.