Composition Is a Discipline

Composition is a discipline; it forces us to think. If you want to “get in touch with your feelings,” fine—talk to yourself; we all do. But, if you want to communicate with another thinking human being, get in touch with your thoughts. Put them in order; give them a purpose; use them to persuade, to instruct, to discover, to seduce. The secret way to do this is to write it down and then cut out the confusing parts.

WILLIAM SAFIRE

Writing Is Lucky Work

I have never liked to suggest that writing is grinding, let alone brave work. H. L. Mencken used to say that any scribbler who found writing too arduous ought to take a week off to work on an assembly line, where he will discover what work is really like. The old boy, as they say, got that right. To be able to sit home and put words together in what one hopes are charming or otherwise striking sentences is, no matter how much tussle may be involved, lucky work, a privileged job. The only true grit connected with it ought to arrive when, thinking to complain about how hard it is to write, one is smart enough to shut up and silently grit one’s teeth.

JOSEPH EPSTEIN

The Principle of Art Is to Pause

The principle of art is to pause, not bypass. The principle of true art is not to portray, but to evoke. This requires a moment of pause--a contract with yourself through the object you look at or the page you read. In that moment of pause, I think life expands. And really the purpose of art––for me, of fiction––is to alert, to indicate to stop, to say: Make certain that when you rush through you will not miss the moment which you might have had, or might still have. That is the moment of finding something which you have not known about yourself, or your environment, about others, and about life.

JERZY KOSINSKI

Action Is Character

“Action is character.” This is what F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in his notes while working on his final novel, The Last Tycoon, and he wrote it in caps: ACTION IS CHARACTER. If one of our greatest narrative writers had to remind himself of that right up to the end, it must be pretty important. It is. Human beings are far too complex to explain away in so many words: imperious; timid; pompous; vain; bombastic--and so on.

BLAKE BAILEY

Telling Stories Is a Kind of Power

There is one form of power that has fascinated me ever since I was a girl, even though it has been widely colonized by men: the power of storytelling. Telling stories really is a kind of power, and not an insignificant one. Stories give shape to experience, sometimes by accommodating traditional literary forms, sometimes by turning them upside down, sometimes by reorganizing them. Stories draw readers into their web, and engage them by putting them to work, body and soul, so that they can transform the black thread of writing into people, ideas, feelings, actions, cities, worlds, humanity, life. Storytelling, in other words, gives us the power to bring order to the chaos of the real under our own sign, and in this it isn’t very far from political power.

ELENA FERRANTE

People Are Complicated

I always think about Faulkner, and I would argue that there can be a difference between the way that characters express themselves internally and externally. I think that their interior life can be very rich and poetic, have such texture, and that their vision can be very complicated, while the way that they express themselves in their speech can be very different. You know what I'm saying? Their verbal speech can reflect more of their circumstances, but people are complicated. I don't think that the way that my characters see and experience the world should be limited by their circumstances. Faulkner taught me that.

JESMYN WARD

Storytelling Is Inherently Dangerous

Storytelling is inherently dangerous. Consider a traumatic event in your life. Think about how you experienced it. Now think about how you told it to someone a year later. Now think about how you told it for the hundredth time. It's not the same thing. Most people think perspective is a good thing: you can figure out characters' arcs, you can apply a moral, you can tell it with understanding and context. But this perspective is a misrepresentation: it's a reconstruction with meaning, and as such bears little resemblance to the event.

CHARLIE KAUFMAN