Writing

July 6, 2019

…one ought to write without making corrections, not necessarily at full tilt, no, but at one’s own pace and in accordance with what one is experiencing at the time; one ought to eject what one writes, manhandle it almost, yes, treat it roughly, not try to trim profusion but let it be part of the whole, and not tone down anything either, whether its speed or its slowness, just leave everything as it is when it appears.

Marguerite Duras
Emily L
Trans. Barbara Bray

Lost & found

May 25, 2019

Rilke warned young poets against large sweeping topics, since those are the most difficult and demand great artistic maturity. He counselled them to write about what they see around them, how they live each day, what’s been lost, what’s been found. He encouraged them to bring the things that surround us into their art, images from dreams, remembered objects. ‘If daily life seems impoverished to you,’ he wrote, ‘don’t blame life. You yourself are to blame. You’re just not enough of a poet to perceive its wealth.’ This advice may seem mundane and dim-witted to you. This is why we called to our defence one of the most esoteric poets in world literature — and just see how he praised so-called ordinary things!

Wislawa Szymborska
Letter to Michal in Nowy Targ
Literary Life
Trans. Clare Cavanagh

Write freely

May 18, 2019

1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
2. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theatre, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person — a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.
4. If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.
5. Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.
6. If you are using dialogue — say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.

John Steinbeck
letter to Robert Wallsten February, 1962

work on stories in his head

November 18, 2018

Louis L’Amour didn’t just commit to writing every single day. He created specific, targeted goals.

One such goal was to publish one short story every week.

Publish, not write. Not every story was accepted, so that meant L’Amour was writing far more than just 52 short stories every year, plus the full-length novels he worked on.

L’Amour’s overall process was somewhat legendary, he never outlined a project, and he categorically refused to edit anything. He simply sat down at a typewriter and wrote.

However, he did have a very specific process, one that helped negate the need for outlining and editing.

He would work on stories in his head for months and sometimes years, taking copious supporting notes, so when he did start tapping on the keyboard, he was essentially writing a finished draft.

Finally, he had a very strict “three strikes rule,” if he couldn’t get a project right by the third time around, he would toss the pages into a pile, and go on to the next project.

Susanna Fitzgerald
Five things copywriters can learn from best selling writer Louis L’Amour

write regularly

May 21, 2018

You can only write regularly if you’re willing to write badly…Accept bad writing as a way of priming the pump, a warm-up exercise that allows you to write well.

Jennifer Egan
Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do edited by Meredith Maran

Open all your senses

May 19, 2018

Here is a way to approach making poetry. Recall an experience. Let it flow into your head into your body until you know fully again what is now memory. Open all your senses: see, hear, smell, taste, touch again what you lived. Focus on one moment. Feel it completely. Do not try to understand it yet. Tell about it. Let the words come. Are they questions? Answers? Write so the reader and listeners respond with their senses, so that they let their bodies think. Do not explain: reveal. Let the image you create work for you. Ask the poem to talk, silently and aloud. People will listen and hear.

Katharyn Howd Machan
On Writing Poetry

Egon Schiele - Standing Girl in Blue Dress

A mode of understanding life which wilfully ignores so much can do so only at the peril of thoroughly distorting the rest. A mode of understanding literature which can ignore the private lives of half the human race is not “incomplete”; it is distorted through and through. Feminist criticism of the early 1970s began by pointing out the simplest of these distortions, that is, that the female characters of even our greatest realistic “classics” by male writers are often not individualized portraits of possible women, but creations of fear and desire.

Joanna Russ
How to suppress Women’s Writing

Sometime after my first drafts are completed, months or even years, I come back to the material to look for the poems hidden in the handwritten scrawl. I turn to the typewriter when I begin experimenting with forms, usually stanzas employing syllabic or accentual count lines. I never use a computer in working on poems – I want to slow the process down, not speed it up.

Laurence Lieberman
Writing Advice from Poets
Writer’s Digest 11th March 2008

Edwige Fouvry - Et Paysage De Nuit

I’ve never willingly written a word without listening to music of some sort. Right now I’m listening to Debussy’s Sonata for Cello and Piano. When pushed by deadlines I’ve sometimes been obliged to work in silence, on a train or plane or in a cafe. (A Walkman I don’t like, since its penetrating sound, piped directly into the cranial bones, is too aggressive and inescapable: booming aural earmuffs.)

Virgil Thomson, recognized my condition right away. There are two kinds of writers, he said. Those who demand absolute silence and those, like you, who need to hear music, the better to concentrate.

Perhaps he put his finger on the underlying psychological process, but I have never felt I was blocking out music the better to focus my thoughts. Admittedly I sometimes recognize that at a certain moment during the last 10 minutes I must have stopped paying attention to the music filling the room, but more often than not I experience music as a landscape unscrolling just outside the window whenever I look up, or as a human drama unfolding across the courtyard when I peek out, or as a separate but beloved presence, an intimate friend sitting in a matching chair, thinking and feeling. Music for me is a companion during the lonely (and why not admit it? the boring) hours of writing.

Music is also in stark contrast to writing. Music is already perfect, sure-footed, whereas I’m struggling to remember a word, frame a description, invent an action. If for me music is the secret sharer, it is a friend who has no needs and encourages me to trust that beauty can be achieved in this life, at least theoretically.

Music is always living out its own vivid, highly marked adventure, which is continuous and uninterrupted. It exists as a superior way of transcribing emotions, or rather of notating shifting balances, repeating motifs, accumulating tensions, deferred resolutions and elaborated variations. As the composer Roger Sessions once put it, music communicates in a marvellously vivid and exact way the dynamics and the abstract qualities of emotion, but any specific emotional content must be supplied from without, by the listening writer in this case.

Edmund White
Before a Rendezvous With the Muse, First Select the Music
New York Times, 18th June 2001

face writing

Reading novels seems to me such a normal activity, while writing them is such an odd thing to do. . . . At least so I think until I remind myself how firmly the two are related. (No armoured generalities here. Just a few remarks.)

First, because to write is to practice, with particular intensity and attentiveness, the art of reading. You write in order to read what you’ve written and see if it’s O.K. and, since of course it never is, to rewrite it – once, twice, as many times as it takes to get it to be something you can bear to reread. You are your own first, maybe severest, reader. ”To write is to sit in judgment on oneself,” Ibsen inscribed on the flyleaf of one of his books. Hard to imagine writing without rereading.

But is what you’ve written straight off never all right? Yes, sometimes even better than all right. And that only suggests, to this novelist at any rate, that with a closer look, or voicing aloud – that is, another reading – it might be better still. I’m not saying that the writer has to fret and sweat to produce something good.

”What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure,” said Dr. Johnson, and the maxim seems as remote from contemporary taste as its author. Surely, much that is written without effort gives a great deal of pleasure.

No, the question is not the judgment of readers – who may well prefer a writer’s more spontaneous, less elaborated work – but a sentiment of writers, those professionals of dissatisfaction. You think, ”If I can get it to this point the first go around, without too much struggle, couldn’t it be better still?”

And though the rewriting – and the rereading – sound like effort, they are actually the most pleasurable parts of writing. Sometimes the only pleasurable parts. Setting out to write, if you have the idea of ”literature” in your head, is formidable, intimidating. A plunge in an icy lake. Then comes the warm part: when you already have something to work with, upgrade, edit.

Susan Sontag
Directions: Write, Read, Rewrite. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 as Needed.
New York Times, 18th December 2000