On Writing the Same Book Over and Over

By Samantha Garner

On Writing the Same Book Over and Over - By Samantha Garner. Text over worn parchment background, with Open Book logo and bottom left corner below text, and image of a number of Kazuo Ishiguro's novels in a row, with an illustrated portrait of the author on the right hand side of the banner.

In a 2015 webchat on The Guardian’s site, Kazuo Ishiguro was asked about his varied subject matter. He replied:

“My subject matter doesn't vary so much from book to book. Just the surface does. The settings, etc. I tend to write the same book over and over, or at least, I take the same subject I took last time out and refine it, or do a slightly different take on it.”

I read these words some years after the fact, but they’ve stuck with me. Kazuo Ishiguro is one of my favourite authors, and I say this both as a reader and as a writer. When I encountered his Guardian quote, I thought back to what books of his I’d read, and it made sense. It felt familiar, something that had settled around me whenever I picked up an Ishiguro novel. It’s what kept his books living in my head long after I’d finished.

As a writer, I’m no stranger to theme repeating. I’m not always conscious of it, but it happens. I have my main New Thing I want to explore, and like Ishiguro, the surface of each book is different as well. But over the last few years I’ve noticed a thread of familiarity woven through my discrete projects. That isn’t to say they’re interlinked by any means—with few exceptions, each one stands on its own—but I can’t deny that I tread some similar ground. I can see where my footsteps scuffed a path along the rug.

Sometimes the connective tissue can be a surface-level element. I recently realized that the book I’m working on now is the fourth one that features crow and/or raven imagery, for example. But overall I think there are certain themes I’ll always be preoccupied with. Memory and nostalgia, identity and belonging, how people change each other’s lives in deceptively small ways—these are stories I’ve been telling myself for decades. I write them into my work because it’s impossible to be done with them. They change as I change. There’s always some new idea, some new facet to squint at under a strong light, and I love it.

Maybe this is why I’m so drawn to Ishiguro. Each of his books is different, sure, but there’s a comforting familiarity that persists no matter what genres he decides to mash together. The Guardian quote also helped me feel more validated in myself as a writer. I used to feel self-conscious about my theme repeating. I used to work myself into a tizzy trying to make each new work a monolith, scrubbed clean of its author. I failed, of course, because how is that even possible? I mean, think of all the authors you return to. You do it because you trust them. You want to go where they—specifically they—lead you in their story.

And while I’m not trying to hoist myself up to the same level as Nobel Prize Winner Kazuo Ishiguro, I’m encouraged by his example. He’s been one of my writerly inspirations for years, after all. If theme repeating is good enough for him, why not embrace it myself?

If you’re also a writer who tends to revisit the same few themes or ideas, I hope you find value in “writing the same book over and over.” By doing so, you can take the time to fully explore something that interests you. Your growth as a writer and as a person can change your perspective of it, which leads to interesting new ways to express or explore your themes. For me, it feels almost like I’m collaborating with the idea itself in its creation. It can be a highly rewarding experience for a writer, and, thinking of the Ishiguro example, for readers as well.

The views expressed by Open Book columnists are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Samantha Garner is the author of The Quiet is Loud, shortlisted for the 2022 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize. A Canadian of mixed Filipino-Finnish background, her character-driven fantasy novels explore themes of identity and belonging. When not writing, Samantha can be found daydreaming in a video game or boring a loved one with the latest historical fact she’s learned.

She can be found online at and on Instagram and Twitter at @samanthakgarner.