Derry, Northern Ireland

Derry, Northern Ireland
A book I'm working on is set in this town.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Writers on writing...

Donald Barthelme -- "Writing is a process of dealing with not-knowing, a forcing of what and how. We have all heard novelists testify to the fact that, beginning a new book, they are utterly baffled as to how to proceed, what should be written and how it might be written, even though they've done a dozen. At best there's a slender intuition, not much greater than an itch."

Truer words never spoken, because I run into that consistently when my characters won't talk to me. I become lost and have no idea where to go except in the wrong direction.

Kurt Vonnegut -- "Keep it simple ... Remember that two great masters of language, William Shakespeare and James Joyce, wrote sentences which were almost childlike when their subjects were profound. 'To be or not to be?' asks Shakespeare's Hamlet. The longest word is three letters long. Joyce, when he was frisky, could put together a sentence as intricate and glittering as a necklace for Cleopatra, but my favorite sentence in his short story 'Eveline' is this one: 'She was tired.' At that point in the story, no other words could break the heart of a reader as those three words do."

I caught a glimmer of this when I read Wilkie Collins' "The Woman In White" years ago. It was long and rambling and a bit silly in its plot...but there's a point in the book where the hero thinks the woman he loves is dead, and all of his grief is poured into one three word sentence: "I loved her." And that jolted me.

George Orwell -- “All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane. I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed. And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.”

Sometimes I think a demon is the only way I was able to write some of my books...that or an avenging angel. To be honest, I'm not sure which I prefer...or if they're not working in conjuncture with the muses.

If you want, you can read the full essays via the links on the names.

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