Does Writing Make You Happy?

Sometimes people ask, does writing make you happy? But I think that’s beside the point. It makes you agitated, and continually in a state where you’re off balance. You seldom feel serene or settled. You’re like the person in the fairy tale The Red Shoes; you’ve just got to dance and dance, you’re never in equilibrium. I don’t think writing makes you happy…. I think it makes for a life that by its very nature has to be unstable, and if it ever became stable, you’d be finished.

HILARY MANTEL

The Road Is Consciousness

If you want to be very good at this, the road is consciousness. Am I repeating this motif? Is this plausible? Does this track logically? Are the paragraph breaks in the right place? Is this information exposited too early? When should this man meet this woman? That was the gradual electrifying revelation – if one has native talent of the level I possess, then it’s about consciousness.

JAMES ELLROY

The Highest Kind of Writing

The highest kind of writing—which must not be confused with the most ambitious kind…belongs to the realm of grace. Talent is part of it, certainly; a thorough understanding of the secret laws, absolutely. But finding the subject and theme which is in perfect harmony with your deepest nature, your forgotten selves, your hidden dreams, and the full unresonated essence of your life—now that cannot be reached through searching, nor can it be stumbled upon through ambition. That sort of serendipity comes upon you on a lucky day. It may emerge even out of misfortune or defeat. You may happen upon it without realizing that this is the work through which your whole life will sing. We should always be ready. We should always be humble. Creativity should always be a form of prayer.

BEN OKRI

Writing As Play

My father, without, I think, realizing what he was doing, made me think of writing as play rather than work. He was always telling me stories, encouraging me, taking an interest in my toy theater, and so on. And it seems to me that writing has been a game that I have gone on playing ever since. I am inclined to think of writers who bore me as being “workers.”

CHRISTOPHER ISHERWOOD

You Don't Write Strangers as Strangers

One assignment I give my beginning fiction students is to read James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. There are so many things to learn from that novel. I ask them to write one page to try to imitate Baldwin. Sometimes students realize how hard it is to write just one page of good writing. In Giovanni’s Room, Baldwin has one passage about taking a train ride. I point out to my students that he describes all the strangers as intimate friends. And he describes an intimate lover as a stranger. I think that’s what you want to learn from Baldwin. You don’t write strangers as strangers; you write strangers like your best friend, with that intimate feeling.

YIYUN LI

Nothing Is as Dangerous as a Sure Thing

I think that one of the problems with twentieth-century art is its preoccupation with subjectivity and originality at the expense of everything else. This has been especially true in painting and music. Though initially stimulating, this soon impeded the full development of any particular style, and rewarded uninteresting and sterile originality. At the same time, it is very sad to say, films have had the opposite problem -- they have consistently tried to formalize and repeat success, and they have clung to a form and style introduced in their infancy. The sure thing is what everyone wants, and originality is not a nice word in this context. This is true despite the repeated example that nothing is as dangerous as a sure thing.

STANLEY KUBRICK