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.

JOHN UPDIKE

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.

KEVIN BARRY

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.

NORMAN MAILER

Creation Is a Long Journey

Creation is not a moment of inspiration but a lifetime of endurance. The drawers of the world are full of things begun. Unfinished sketches, pieces of invention, incomplete product ideas, notebooks with half-formulated hypotheses, abandoned patents, partial manuscripts. Creating is more monotony than adventure. It is early mornings and late nights: long hours doing work that will likely fail or be deleted or erased—a process without progress that must be repeated daily for years. Beginning is hard, but continuing is harder. Those who seek a glamorous life should not pursue art, science, innovation, invention, or anything else that needs new. Creation is a long journey where most turns are wrong and most ends are dead. The most important thing creators do is work. The most important thing they don’t do is quit.

KEVIN ASHTON

Writing Is Like Taking an Exam

I myself tend to think of writing as much like taking an exam—the experience is deeply absorbing, my concentration is intensely focused, time seems suspended yet suddenly hours have elapsed. At the end of a day of writing, I feel drained. The point is that I don’t believe anyone has to innately love the process of writing to be a good writer, and to find it an immensely satisfying pursuit.

JAMES B. STEWART

Motherhood Feeds Art

I really do think motherhood feeds art. How that will be executed is another question. But having access to the emotional plane that comes with birthing a child: I can see the world through her eyes and notice things that I wouldn’t have noticed without her. I’ve lost out on time, but I’ve gained quite richly in other ways. At least that’s the theory I’m working with now.

CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE

Write to Your Mother

Write to your mother. Write to your best friend. Write to the love of your life. Write to your worst enemy. I think you’ll discover that the work for the enemy will be of highest quality. It will be the most daring and smart, because if someone is your enemy, she has the power to hurt you, and so you must hold her in very high regard and will take some pleasure in making her fear for her life.

OTTESSA MOSHFEGH