QUOTE OF THE DAY
I would imagine that most writers revise, one way or another. Maybe they don’t revise as extensively on paper, but the process of writing is a process of inner expansion and reduction. It’s like an accordion: You open it and then you bring it back, hoping that additional sound—a new clarity—may come out. It’s all for clarity.
These letters and syllables we play with are like the gritty heads of comets—miniscule in mass, but vivid in the luminescence that surrounds them. Why does a comet have a fiery tail? From the impact of plasma as it nears the sun. At the outer reaches of its orbit, a comet is a cold, sluggish conglomerate of interplanetary gravel. But then it plunges toward the light, to contest its speed with the field of the sun that locks it in a long ellipse. The stony nucleus stirs to life, whipped around the sun by the lash of gravity. Words can be comets, carrying bright clouds of context, signaling to us with a glow of multiple meanings. They splay out from the near weightless nucleus of syllables, challenged by a force field of ideas, made radiant by the impact of thought. Leaf through the bulk of today’s mail: drab constellations of expected and smog-dimmed stars. Why not write in letters of fire? We need events in our literary sky. Astonish us with the coming of a comet.
ROBERT E. LEE and LUCY LEE
It comes back to the question, whom are you writing for? Who are the readers you want? Who are the people you want to engage with the things that matter most to you? And for me, it's people who don't need it all spelled out because they know it, they understand it. That's why there's so much I can't read because I get so exasperated. Someone starts describing the character boarding the plane and pulling the seat back. And I just want to say, Babe, I have been downtown. I have been up in a plane. Give me some credit.
The creative act is not pure. History evidences it. Sociology extracts it. The writer loses Eden, writes to be read and comes to realize that he is answerable.
I have never felt like I was creating anything. For me, writing is like walking through a desert and all at once, poking up through the hardpan, I see the top of a chimney. I know there’s a house under there, and I’m pretty sure that I can dig it up if I want. That’s how I feel. It’s like the stories are already there. What they pay me for is the leap of faith that says: ‘If I sit down and do this, everything will come out OK.
Nothing can break the mood of a piece of writing like bad dialogue. My students are miserable when they are reading an otherwise terrific story to the class and then hit a patch of dialogue that is so purple and expositional that it reads like something from a childhood play by the Gabor sisters. ... I can see the surprise on my students' faces, because the dialogue looked okay on paper, yet now it sounds as if it were poorly translated from their native Hindi.
Think of your main characters as dinner guests. Would your friends want to spend ten hours with the characters you’ve created? Your characters can be loveable, or they can be evil, but they’d better be compelling.
Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?
If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don't just stick there scowling at the problem. But don't make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people's words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.
A good story is a dirty secret that we all share. It's what makes guilty pleasures so pleasurable, but it's also what makes them so guilty. A juicy tale reeks of crass commercialism and cheap thrills. We crave such entertainments, but we despise them. Plot makes perverts of us all.
Writing, I think, is not apart from living. Writing is a kind of double living. The writer experiences everything twice. Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind.
CATHERINE DRINKER BOWEN
If you write a story today, and you get up tomorrow and start another story, all the expertise that you put into the first story doesn't transfer over automatically to the second story. You're always starting at the bottom of the mountain. So you're always becoming a writer. You're never really arriving.
EDWARD P. JONES
Writing became a way for me to talk about myself—or a character—in a really personal, surprising manner without any embarrassment. I was brought up to be an incredibly nice person, but not everything I wanted to say was nice.
I want the reader to turn the page and keep on turning to the end. This is accomplished only when the narrative moves steadily ahead, not when it comes to a weary standstill, overloaded with every item uncovered in the research.
BARABARA W. TUCHMAN
Your best tools are short, plain, Anglo-Saxon verbs. I mean active verbs, not passive verbs. If you could write an article using only active verbs, your article would automatically have clarity and warmth and vigor.
Writing fiction is a solitary occupation but not really a lonely one. The writer's head is mobbed with characters, images and language, making the creative process something like eavesdropping at a party for which you've had the fun of drawing up the guest list. Loneliness usually doesn't set in until the work is finished, and all the partygoers and their imagined universe have disappeared.
It is much easier to write great dialogue (which is a talent and not really very much of an exertion) than to write great plots. So we playwrights do the next best thing to writing great plots: we write bad plots. And then we fill up the empty spaces with verbiage.