QUOTE OF THE DAY
As you get older, you should get impatient with showing off in literature. It is easier to settle for blazing light than to find a language for the real. Whether you are a writer or a bird-dog trainer, life should winnow the superfluous language. The real thing should become plain. You should go straight to what you know best.
This is the extraordinary thing about creativity: If just you keep your mind resting against the subject in a friendly but persistent way, sooner or later you will get a reward from your unconscious.
Trust your writing. Trust your storytelling. If you put in too much of yourself, and it feels emotionally true, then let it be (and really, who is to say which is you and which isn't?).
CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE
I was Sinclair Lewis's secretary-chess-opponent-chauffeur-protegé back when I was 24, and he told me sternly that if I could be anything else be it, but if I HAD to be a writer, I might make it. He also said, as he threw away the first 75 expository pages of my first novel: “People read fiction for emotion—not information.”
Despite all the cynical things writers have said about writing for money, the truth is we write for love. That is why it is so easy to exploit us. That is also why we pretend to be hard-boiled, saying things like “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money” (Samuel Johnson). Not true. No one but a blockhead ever wrote except for love. . . . You must do it for love. If you do it for money, no money will ever be enough, and eventually you will start imitating your first successes, straining hot water through the same old teabag. It doesn’t work with tea, and it doesn’t work with writing.
Writing a novel is like making a movie: All sorts of accidental things will happen after you’ve set up the cameras. So you get lucky. Something will happen at the edge of the set and perhaps you go with that. You come into it accidentally. You set the story in motion, and as you're watching this thing begin, all these opportunities will show up. So in order to exploit one thing or another, you may have to do research. You may have to find out more about Chinese immigrants, or you may have to find out about Halley’s Comet, or whatever, where you didn't realize that you were going to have Chinese or Halley’s Comet in the story. So you do research on that, and it implies more, and the deeper you get into the story, the more it implies, the more suggestions it make on the plot. Toward the end, the ending becomes inevitable.
Push it. Examine all things intensely and relentlessly. Probe and search each object in a piece of art; do not leave it, do not course over it, as if it were understood, but instead follow it down until you see it in the mystery of its own specificity and strength.
Language is not a protocol legislated by an authority but rather a wiki that pools the contributions of millions of writers and speakers, who ceaselessly bend the language to their needs and who inexorably age, die, and get replaced by their children, who adapt the language in their turn.
I don’t think that writer’s block exists really. I think that when you’re trying to do something prematurely, it just won’t come. Certain subjects just need time. . . . You’ve got to wait before you write about them.
JOYCE CAROL OATES
Writing is terribly boring to talk about, and writing about writing is even more boring, and writing about writing a novel about a writer is probably forbidden by law in places that have a better developed sense of the comedy and wretched self-seriousness of art-making.
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.
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.
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.
We're all there trying to make the story, novel, or chapter as good as it can be. It's a constant struggle to get it down, get it clear, and understand that your intentions are the same, whether you're an undergraduate writing a short story or a writer with seven published novels. The continually reassuring thing is that we're all novices when we start a new work.
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.
Self-doubt is part of the creative process. I hate to have it but I also realize it is part of the process. Otherwise you become complacent, which is cancerous for creativity.
CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE
The thing about a hero, is even when it doesn't look like there's a light at the end of the tunnel, he's going to keep digging, he's going to keep trying to do right and make up for what's gone before, just because that's who he is.
My own best advice to young writers is: follow your curiosity and passion. What fascinates you will probably fascinate others. But, even if it doesn't, you will have devoted your life to what you love. An important corollary is that it's no use trying to write like someone else. Discover what's uniquely yours.
Write what you know. Every guide for the aspiring author advises this. Because I live in a long-settled rural place, I know certain things. I know the feel of a newborn lamb's damp, tight-curled fleece and the sharp sound a well-bucket chain makes as it scrapes on stone. But more than these material things, I know the feelings that flourish in small communities. And I know other kinds of emotional truths that I believe apply across the centuries.