A Story Is Dynamic

A story is, after all, and before everything else, dynamic: it starts Here, because it’s going There. Its life principle is the same as a river: to keep moving. Fast or slow, straight or erratic, headlong or meandering, but going, till it gets There. The ideas it expresses, the research it embodies, the timeless inspirations it may offer, are all subordinate to and part of that onward movement. The end itself may not be very important; it is the journey that counts. I don’t know much about “flow” states, but I know that the onward flow of a story is what carries a writer from the start to the end of it, along with the whole boatload of characters and ideas and knowledge and meaning — and carries the reader in the same boat.


Avoid the Big Info Dump

It’s important to avoid what science fiction writers sometimes call the “As you know, Bob,” paragraph, in which you do this big info dump. There’s pleasure in working it out. Besides, brief, understated descriptions tend to better serve the lens of character. Real people don’t think of things in quite so many adverbs, or adjectives. And then I like to think that withholding information also rewards readers who will go back and re-read the whole thing. All of those little enigmas play differently the second time through.


Writing Is an Addiction

Writing … is an addiction, an illusory release, a presumptuous taming of reality, a way of expressing lightly the unbearable. That we age and leave behind this litter of dead, unrecoverable selves is both unbearable and the commonest thing in the world — it happens to everybody. In the morning light one can write breezily, without the slight acceleration of one’s pulse, about what one cannot contemplate in the dark without turning in panic to God. In the dark one truly feels that immense sliding, that turning of the vast earth into darkness and eternal cold, taking with it all the furniture and scenery, and the bright distractions and warm touches, of our lives. Even the barest earthly facts are unbearably heavy, weighted as they are with our personal death. Writing, in making the world light — in codifying, distorting, prettifying, verbalizing it — approaches blasphemy.


Literary Talent Isn't Rare

The funny thing about it all is that literary talent isn’t rare. Lots of people can write good stories with good characters and great sentences. What’s rare is the stubborn, pragmatic thing that tells you “I’ve got to do this every single fucking day, even when I don’t want to do it, when I’d rather pluck my eyes out and feed them to the birds.” That discipline combined with talent is very rare. I’d be willing to bet that some of the most brilliant writers who ever lived have never been published, because they weren’t prepared to do the work. You have to make sacrifices and be utterly selfish. Everything else and everyone else is secondary to your writing.


Be Ruthless About Your Work

If you’re not ruthless about your work, you can’t be an artist of interest. Once something crystallizes, you have to be ruthless about presenting it; it doesn’t matter who gets hurt, starting with yourself. Your message in the ear of the reader is going to be worth the damage that’s done. You’ve got to be impersonal; you can’t look back. If, on the other hand, you go in the other direction and start thinking, “Will writing about this experience hurt me?”—well, then, you’re a bad writer, the kind who spends his life humping for The New Yorker. You spend your life hurting other people—not yourself.