Two Types of Writers

I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows. And I’m much more a gardener than an architect


A Writer Is a Tyrant

Writing is a process that’s entirely totalitarian. A writer is a tyrant, a dictator. He has complete power over every comma, every sentence, every character. When I’m writing, I’m the boss — I’m in charge. When the book is published, the political nature of it changes completely. People can read my books in whatever way they want to. I don’t want any control over the process of reading, it’s democratic: and furthermore, between the reader and the book there opens up a space of complete freedom, which is also private. In a democracy, we have a private voting booth. It’s secret. So the difference between reading and writing is the difference between democracy and tyranny. 


The Soul-Quality in Writing

There’s a sort of soul-quality in writing, if it’s any good. It has a spirit or an energy to it that is very integral to who the writer is on a deep level. It’s almost a cellular thing. It takes place in the cells of the writing, and it is what makes it alive or not. That’s why most writers have a cynical attitude toward writing programs. You can teach people a lot about craft and various techniques, and you can certainly teach them to appreciate, but you cannot give them spirit or soul if it’s not there.


Write a Short Story in One Day

The short story, if you really are intense and you have an exciting idea, writes itself in a few hours. I try to encourage my student friends and my writer friends to write a short story in one day so it has a skin around it, its own intensity, its own life, its own reason for being. There’s a reason why the idea occurred to you at that hour anyway, so go with that and investigate it, get it down. Two or three thousand words in a few hours is not that hard. Don’t let people interfere with you. Boot ’em out, turn off the phone, hide away, get it done. If you carry a short story over to the next day you may overnight intellectualize something about it and try to make it too fancy, try to please someone.


Plot Is an Organic Thing

Most writers think up a plot with an intriguing situation and then proceed to fit characters into it. With me a plot, if you could call it that, is an organic thing. It grows and often it overgrows. I am continually finding myself with scenes that I won’t discard and that don’t want to fit in. So that my plot problem invariably ends up as a desperate attempt to justify a lot of material that, for me at least, has come alive and insists on staying alive. It’s probably a silly way to write, but I seem to know no other way. The mere idea of being committed in advance to a certain pattern appalls me.


Your Craving to Write Is the Big Thing

Write first with a pen. It’s too easy on the computer to change a word, then forget what it was. Also, don’t get too social. Write for whatever holy thing you believe in, not for your poetry workshop fellows. And dare once in a while to throw a poem away. The main thing is to know that your craving to write is the big thing and will continue, and is more valuable than the finished poem. I do this myself, plenty.


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. 


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.


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.