You Can Write Anything

If you have something to say, write a book. Thoreau’s Kathmandu principle, the Colette principle (‘‘Break of Day’’ as diary), still holds: You can write anything, anything at all, if you’re honest, because we are each as bizarre and foreign to one another as the news from Kathmandu (as Colette’s life was to me). On the other hand. Writing is too hard to waste on the weirdness of your daily life, or at least on mine. I love to sock the reader into some odd time and place and let him breathe there and love it, and love the world for having such a place — and then to call for fireworks there with only a ballpoint pen. Possible books abound; I’d rather write an impossible page. 

ANNIE DILLARD

The B Word

The scene is a writer's study, shabby, drafty but tax-deductible. The writer is reading the last hundred pages of his work in progress. For the past fifty or so, a kind of slow terror has been rising in his breast. All these pages had seemed necessary. They contain many good things. Ironies. Insights. And yet they seem to have a certain ineffable unsatisfactoriness. There is a word to describe this quality, the writer thinks, a horrible word. The B word. He begins to strike his forehead with a sweaty palm.

ROBERT STONE

Prose Is Architecture

Prose is architecture, not interior decoration, and the Baroque is past. People in a novel, not skillfully constructed characters, must be projected from the writer's assimilated experience, from his knowledge, from his head, from his heart and from all that there is of him. If he ever has luck as well as seriousness and gets them out entire, they will have more than one dimension and they will last a long time.

ERNEST HEMINGWAY

When Writing Gets Really Fun

I feel most pleased with my language when I don’t understand it completely. When it sustains hope that there’s more to write about, that there’s an open door for me to explore. That’s when the writing gets really fun. I feel like it’s all about waiting for a kind of discovery that takes place on the sentence level—as opposed to having a light-bulb about a character. That’s the thing that drives me from first sentence to last sentence.

AIMEE BENDER

Writing Is Not a Serious Business

I want your loves to be multiple. I don’t want you to be a snob about anything. Anything you love, you do it. It’s got to be with a great sense of fun. Writing is not a serious business. It’s a joy and a celebration. You should be having fun at it. Ignore the authors who say, oh my god, what work, oh Jesus Christ, you know. No, to hell with that. It is not work. If it’s work, stop it, and do something else.

RAY BRADBURY

Work Habits

Any small room with no natural light will do. As for when, I have no particular schedules... afternoons are best, but I'm too lethargic for any real regime. When I'm in the flow of something I can do a regular 9 to 5; when I don't know where I'm going with an idea, I'm lucky if I do two hours of productive work. There is nothing more off-putting to a would-be novelist to hear about how so-and-so wakes up at four in the a.m, walks the dog, drinks three liters of black coffee and then writes 3,000 words a day, or that some other asshole only works half an hour every two weeks, does fifty press-ups and stands on his head before and after the "creative moment." I remember reading that kind of stuff in profiles like this and becoming convinced everything I was doing was wrong. What's the American phrase? “If it ain't broke...”.

ZADIE SMITH

We Must Not Be Defeated

There is, I hope, a thesis in my work: we may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated. That sounds goody-two-shoes, I know, but I believe that a diamond is the result of extreme pressure and time. Less time is crystal. Less than that is coal. Less than that is fossilized leaves. Less than that it’s just plain dirt. In all my work, in the movies I write, the lyrics, the poetry, the prose, the essays, I am saying that we may encounter many defeats—maybe it’s imperative that we encounter the defeats—but we are much stronger than we appear to be and maybe much better than we allow ourselves to be. 

MAYA ANGELOU

Live Life

Travel, do things, learn things, embrace experiences you have not yet had, even if they’re not always good ones. Live life. So much of fiction is about filling the tanks for fiction, and so much of that is Doing Different Stuff. I don’t mean to suggest you need to have buckets of money to travel to distant lands — like, if you’ve never driven three towns over, go do it. If you’ve never gone fishing, go fishing. Eat a bug. Climb a tree. Stick an egg-beater up your — wait, no, we decided that wasn’t a thing to do. Change your perspective. Add to the list of things you truly feel comfortable writing about. No, you don’t need to always write what you know, but the things that you know — or better stated, that you have experienced — will be things you will want to write about.

CHUCK WENDIG

The Book Is a Curious Artifact

The book itself is a curious artifact, not showy in its technology but complex and extremely efficient: a really neat little device, compact, often very pleasant to look at and handle, that can last decades, even centuries. It doesn’t have to be plugged in, activated, or performed by a machine; all it needs is light, a human eye, and a human mind. It is not one of a kind, and it is not ephemeral. It lasts. It is reliable. If a book told you something when you were fifteen, it will tell it to you again when you’re fifty, though you may understand it so differently that it seems you’re reading a whole new book.

URSULA K. LE GUIN

You Have a Beautiful Sentence — Cut It

Just one piece of general advice from a writer has been very useful to me. It was from Colette. I was writing short stories for Le Matin, and Colette was literary editor at that time. I remember I gave her two short stories and she returned them and I tried again and tried again. Finally she said, “Look, it is too literary, always too literary.” So I followed her advice. It’s what I do when I write, the main job when I rewrite…. Adjectives, adverbs, and every word which is there just to make an effect. Every sentence which is there just for the sentence. You know, you have a beautiful sentence — cut it. Every time I find such a thing in one of my novels it is to be cut.

GEORGES SIMENON