QUOTE OF THE DAY
Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it.
There are three reasons for becoming a writer: the first is that you need the money; the second, that you have something to say that you think the world should know; the third is that you can’t think of what to do with the long winter evenings.
Procrastination is an alluring siren taunting you to Google the country where Balki from Perfect Strangers was from, and to arrange sticky notes on your dog in the shape of hilarious dog shorts. A wicked temptress beckoning you to watch your children, and take showers. Well, it’s time to look procrastination in the eye and tell that seafaring wench, “Sorry, not today, today I write.”
I like to imagine a sentence as a boat. Each sentence, after all, has a distinct shape, and it comes with something that makes it move forward or stay still — whether a sail, a motor or a pair of oars. There are as many kinds of sentences as there are seaworthy vessels: canoes and sloops, barges and battleships, Mississippi riverboats and dinghies all-too-prone to leaks. And then there are the impostors, flotsam and jetsam — a log heading downstream, say, or a coconut bobbing in the waves without a particular destination.
. . .
Just as there is no one perfect boat, there is no one perfect sentence structure. Mark Twain wrote sentences that were as humble, sturdy and American as a canoe; William Faulkner wrote sentences as gaudy as a Mississippi riverboat. But no matter the atmospherics, the best sentences bolt a clear subject to a dramatic predicate, making a mini-narrative.
You have the right to not change anything, but don’t be a fool. Change things if somebody else is right. But if you do change something because somebody else is right, you must instantly take credit for it yourself. That’s very important.
Technology may change minutiae of plot, but the essential human drama will never change. Good fiction depends on longing and subtext — the tension between what people say and what they want. Characters used to wait to receive letters; now they wait for Facebook messages or Twitter mentions. Characters used to wonder about lost loves; now they Google those ex-lovers. But they are still waiting and wondering. They are still aching and yearning, trying to overcome obstacles. Even in this hyper-connected digital age, there is desire and subtext, conflict and loss. So there will always be good stories.
The object we call a book is not the real book, but its seed or potential, like a music score. It exists fully only in the act of being read; and its real home is inside the head of the reader, where the seed germinates and the symphony resounds. A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another. The child I once was read constantly and hardly spoke, because she was ambivalent about the merits of communication, about the risks of being mocked or punished or exposed. The idea of being understood and encouraged, of recognizing herself in another, of affirmation, had hardly occurred to her and neither had the idea that she had something to give others. So she read, taking in words in huge quantities, a children’s and then an adult’s novel a day for many years, seven books a week or so, gorging on books, fasting on speech, carrying piles of books home from the library.
Writing can’t be planned for or predicted, and when it happens, when the surge begins, it brings a satisfaction like nothing else. There are finer sensualities, sure, and basic emotions that give joy or connection when released, but as far as giving me a sustained sense that this is who I am, this is what I do, a full-fathom immersion in writing is the ultimate verification. Alone at my attic desk, catching the flow of words, when the flow is there to be caught — or generating it when it is there to be generated — I break with my more tentative self, claim some more necessary seeming “I.” The change has everything to do with finding words and their sequence. The joy prolongs itself for a short time after I stop — a resonance, a psychic afterglow — then it tapers away, the other life resumes. But I am already thinking toward the next occasion.
Writing a first draft is like groping one's way into a dark room, or overhearing a faint conversation, or telling a joke whose punchline you've forgotten. As someone said, one writes mainly to rewrite, for rewriting and revising are how one's mind comes to inhabit the material fully.
Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.
Autobiography is a life writing its life. . . . How does autobiography begin? With memory. And the consequent division of the self into the-one-who-was and the-one-who-is. The-one-who-is has the advantage of having been the-one-who-was. Once. The-one-who-was is, furthermore, at the present self’s mercy, for it may not wish to remember that past, or it may wish the-one-who-was was other than the one it was, and consequently alter its description, since the-one-who-is is writing the history and has the upper hand. Every moment a bit of the self slides away toward its station in the past, where it will be remembered partially, if at all; with distortions, if at all; and then rendered even more incompletely, with graver omissions and twists to the plot by the play of the pen, so that its text will no doubt be subsequently and inaccurately read, systematically misinterpreted and put to use in yet another version, possibly by a biographer bent on revising the customary view of you and surrounding his selected subject with himself, as Sartre surrounded Genet, as a suburb surrounds a town and slowly sucks its center out.
Constructing a sentence is the equivalent of taking a Polaroid snapshot: pressing the button, and watching something emerge. To write one is to document and to develop at the same time. Not all sentences end up in novels or stories. But novels and stories consist of nothing but. Sentences are the bricks as well as the mortar, the motor as well as the fuel. They are the cells, the individual stitches. Their nature is at once solitary and social. Sentences establish tone, and set the pace. One in front of the other marks the way.
Writing is a muscle. Smaller than a hamstring and slightly bigger than a bicep, and it needs to be exercised to get stronger. Think of your words as reps, your paragraphs as sets, your pages as daily workouts. Think of your laptop as a machine like the one at the gym where you open and close your inner thighs in front of everyone, exposing both your insecurities and your genitals. Because that is what writing is all about.
Most of us live in a condition of secrecy: secret desires, secret appetites, secret hatreds and relationship with the institutions which is extremely intense and uncomfortable. These are, to me, a part of the ordinary human condition. So I don't think I'm writing about abnormal things. ... Artists, in my experience, have very little center. They fake. They are not the real thing. They are spies. I am no exception.
JOHN LE CARRÉ
There’s nothing worse for plots than cellphones. Once your characters have one, there’s no reason for them to get lost or stranded. Or miss each other at the top of the Empire State Building. If you want anything like that to happen, you either have to explain upfront what happened to the phones or you have to make at least one character some sort of manic pixie Luddite who doesn’t carry one.
I sometimes suggest to inexperienced writers that they try to summarize their novels in progress in a sentence or two. It’s a useful though limited way of finding out whether a book has a coherent theme, a theme that’s likely to attract readers. “One day in the life of a humble prisoner in Stalin’s gulag,” or “one day in the life of a middle-aged mediocre Dublin Jew, explored as an odyssey,” would convince most literate people that there was, at least, a worthy and intelligible subject.
Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.
WILLIAM STRUNK, JR. and E.B. WHITE
I talk about the things people have always talked about in stories: pain, hate, truth, courage, destiny, friendship, responsibility, growing old, growing up, falling in love, all of these things. What I try to write about are the darkest things in the soul, the mortal dreads. I try to go into those places in me that contain the cauldrous. I want to dip up the fire, and I want to put it on paper. The closer I get to the burning core of my being, the things which are most painful to me, the better is my work.