Writer's Block Doesn't Exist

Someone asked me the other day about writer’s block. Writer’s block basically doesn’t exist. It’s a way of saying the writing you are trying to do came out so badly you’re not willing to go through with it. So it’s not about being blocked, it’s about being unwilling to persevere with really bad-quality writing. My feeling is you should always go through that, because it’s part and parcel to writing. If you’re digging for gold, you sift a lot of crap.

JOE DUNTHORNE

You Start with Too Much

There is no such thing as somebody sitting down and saying, “Now, all right, I’m going to make a new picture.” Not at all. You have ideas stashed away, dozens of them — good, bad, or indifferent. Then you pull them out of your memory, out of your drawer, you combine them…. People think when it comes to a screenplay you start with absolutely nothing. But the trouble is that you have a million ideas and you have to condense them into a thousand ideas, and you have to condense those into three hundred ideas to get it under one hat, as it were. In other words, you start with too much, not with nothing, and it can go in every kind of direction. Every possible avenue is open. They you have to dramatize it — it is as simple as that — by omitting, by simplifying, by finding a clean theme that leads someplace.

BILLY WILDER

Thou Shalt Preserve the Unities of Time and Place

Thou shalt preserve the unities of time and place, as commended by the High Priest Nicolas Boileau, placing thyself, in imagination, in one time and one place, and distinguishing all others to which thou mayest refer by a proper use of tenses and other forms of speech devised for this purpose; for unless we exploit the distinction between past and pluperfect tenses, and between imperfect and future conditional, we cannot attain perfect limpidity of style and argument.

HUGH TREVOR-ROPER

On Screenwriting

A man sits down at a typewriter with some blank paper on which he types image-describing words, and at a certain point turns around and confronts some four or five hundred people, and trucks and food wagons, airplanes, horses, hotels, roads, cars, lights, all of which he has by some means, untraceable now in its complexity, evoked from nowhere and nothing. Oddly, he ends up with little power over these results of his imagination; they go their own way with not the slightest awareness that they owe their current incarnation to him.

ARTHUR MILLER

No Moral Judgments

When the book is finished I immediately lose interest in the characters. And I never make moral judgments. All I would say is that a person was droll, or gay, or, above all, a bore. Making judgments for or against my characters bores me enormously; it doesn’t interest me at all. The only morality for a novelist is the morality of his esthétique. I write the books, they come to an end, and that’s all that concerns me.

FRANÇOISE SAGAN

A Name Can Set Someone in Place

If you have a name it can set someone in place. I have a great friend in California, the Irish novelist Brian Moore. We were having dinner one night and Brian said that when he was a newspaperman in Montreal a local character there was named Shake-Hands McCarthy. I said, Stop! Are you ever going to use that name? He said, No, let me tell you about him. I said, No, I don’t want to know anything about him. I just want to use that name. So the name turned up in True Confessions.

JOHN GREGORY DUNNE

There Is No Agony Like Bearing an Untold Story Inside You

Perhaps it is just as well to be rash and foolish for a while. If writers were too wise, perhaps no books would get written at all. It might be better to ask yourself “Why?” afterward than before. Anyway, the force of somewhere in space which commands you to write in the first place, gives you no choice. You take up the pen when you are told, and write what is commanded. There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you.

ZORA NEALE HURSTON

Art Is the Daughter of Time

Art is the daughter of time, which means basically you write for the people who can read you when you and they are alive. I'm perfectly comfortable with that. The whole notion of legacy — I think it's kind of a media creation in a sense. We all talk about people's legacies. I just don't think about it. I feel like it's a privilege to get to write books. I feel like it's a high calling. I feel like it's allowed me to take full advantage of myself, with the chaos that goes on in my brain. If somebody reads me now, when I publish these books and write these books, that's all I ask. That's really all I ask.

RICHARD FORD