I received four messages this week asking more or less the same questions: How do you write your column every week? Where do you get your ideas from? Can you lend me some money? No, that last was a separate message altogether.

Anyway, here are my answers to the persons who wrote.

Person One: Once a week, I set my alarm for five o’clock, which means I am out of the bed by seven. I run out, stare at the sun for a few minutes and keep my mind blank. This means I am ready to receive good ideas floating in the air or sent to me directly from an invisible alien who happens to be passing by. I believe Mozart worked exactly the same way, although some believe he was so good that he might have been an alien himself. Sometimes it rains or the sun stays behind a cloud. Those are the days when my muse lets me down and you will find my writing full of bad grammar and unexploding jokes.

Person Two: I am actually the face of a large corporation with hundreds of writers on the payroll. I wake up as usual between nine and ten, and call one of them on the phone. I say just one word. It might be ‘game’ or ‘newspaper’ or ‘Yoga’, and then the team gets down to writing the column based on it. The best are longlisted by a committee and then the best of that shortlisted by another committee before I receive the finest one. I simply add my name at the top (doing this myself is something I insist on), and it arrives with your morning coffee.

Person Three: I was hoping to keep this a secret, but since you asked, here it is. Many years ago a mad scientist invented an artificial intelligence machine (to make up for lack of any real intelligence) which was then abandoned as a worthless project. I picked it up off ebay and turned a couple of knobs to make it work for me. I feed it a special kind of oil and some fish (it loves sardines), and within an hour out comes a column ready for publication.

Person Four: I drink enormous amounts of coffee, smoke endlessly, run around the block once, sit down at the desk, stare out of the window, fight with my wife, kick the cat, answer phone calls, make a few myself, have another cup of coffee, do yoga, go to the gym, take in a movie, grab a nap, wake up and come back to my desk, and suddenly I am able to write. It’s a miracle, but the preparations are necessary.

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