* reflections on writing

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 27, 2012

“reflections on writing” in Write Away by Elizabeth George

·   write what you want to write, not what you think is going to sell   ·    write to your passion  ·   write what interests you


“reflections on writing” by Norman Mailer in The Spooky Art

·     high morals and thorough duplicity, loyalty and deceit, passion and ice-cold detachment … these are the characteristics of a writer  ·     I learned to write by writing  ·    The Naked and the Dead was the work of an amateur, sloppily written, NM took chances  ·     after 3 years of living with the book (Deer Park), I could admit that the style was wrong, and I had been strangling my novel in a poetic prose that was too self-consciously attractive and formal.   ·    working on my 3rd novel, I felt I was finally learning to write   ·    write only what interests you, not what you think will be a best seller  ·     best selling novelists work on big canvases – 40-50 characters and 50-100 years. Most good writers today tend to work on smaller canvases.  ·    best-seller readers want to read and read and read – they do not want to ponder   ·    an editor has to bring in books that will make money. publishing houses are getting depressed about the future of good fiction. when a serious novel by an unknown gets published today, it’s usually because some young editor has made an issue of it … which means some agent made an issue of it to the editor.  ·   how much of history is conspiracy, planned, rational, and how much is simple fuckups?  ·     you put your book out, if you can afford to take the time, only when it is ready   ·     a man lays his character on the line when he writes a novel. anything in him which is lazy, or meretricious (attracting attention in a vulgar manner), or unthought-out, complacent, fearful, overambitious, or terrified by the ultimate logic of his exploration will be revealed in his book. No novelist can escape his own character.  ·    Mailer talking with Gore Vidal: one could not make one’s living writing good novels anymore.  ·    Tolstoy evaded the depths that Dostoyevsky opened, whereas Dostoyevsky, lacking Tolstoy’s majestic sense of the proportion of things, fled proportion and explored hysteria.  ·   for every great writer, there are a hundred who could have been equally great but lacked the courage.  ·     we write novels out of two cardinal impulses – one is to understand ourselves better, the other is to present what we know about others.  ·     there is always fear in trying to write a good book, where the unique element of risk is to your ego  ·     if you’re trying for something interesting or difficult, then you cannot predict what the results of your work will be.  ·    we are all navigating through life. Good novels have a quality that other forms of communication do not offer.  ·     Joyce Carol Oates is willing to dare terrible humiliation.  ·    if there is no afterworld … then existence is indeed absurd.  ·     under the Nazis, an evil of true murderousness took over an ordinary people – the most decent, hardworking and clean people in the world and led them into despicable and extraordinary acts … suggesting that the unconscious is truly a place of hideous ambushes and horrors. Evil has dimensions. Evil is mysterious. It is not, as Hannah Arendt would say, banal  (Drearily commonplace and often predictable; trite).  ·     it is arrogant to assume that we can determine our own moral value. The novel is the best form for developing our moral sensitivity … our depth of understanding rather than our rush to judgment.  ·     morality, when subtle, brings proportion to human affairs. Tolstoy is a great writer – maybe he is our greatest novelist – because no other can match his sense of human proportion. We feel awe supported by compassion when we read Tolstoy. We are in the rare presence of moral evaluations that are severe yet ultimately tender.  ·     Picasso kept changing the nature of his attack on reality. I find it most interesting in my writing to keep making a new attack on the nature of reality.  ·     you cannot have a great democracy without great writers. If great novels disappear, as they are in danger of doing, we will be that much further away from a free society. Novels that reinvigorate our view of the subtlety of moral judgments are essential to a democracy. (If citizens read them ·     a novel at its best is the most moral of art forms, exploring the interstices of human behavior, the terrible complexities of moral experience and its dark sibling, moral ambiguity. There are no answers. There are only questions.  ·    the novelist may be better equipped to deal with the possibilities of a mysterious and difficult situation than anyone else, since he is always trying to discover what the nature of reality might be, asking ‘how and what is the nature of this little reality before me?’ … asking all the impertinent questions we often avoid in our real lives … dealing with life as something not eternal and immutable, but rather half-worked, seeing the world which was always before us in a manner different from the way we had seen it the day before.  ·  in the Russia of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, it was taken for granted that you could learn more about life by reading their novels than you could from your own personal experience.  ·     writers aren’t taken seriously anymore, because we haven’t written the novels that should have been written, works which could have helped to define America.  ·     I have always felt that The Old Man and the Sea was one of Hemingway’s failures. The old Cuban was never tempted to cut the fish loose, so Hemingway never had to find a reason for the fisherman to say ‘I’ll hold on.’ Not enough of a character had been created to answer such a question.


“reflections on writing” by Joyce Carol Oates in The Faith of a Writer

·   And yet the only exciting life is the imaginary one (Virginia Wolfe, diary)  ·   Art springs from the depths of the human imagination – idiosyncratic, mysterious   ·   Ecstatic bouts of inspiration  ·   The writer has probably based his prose style upon significant predecessors  ·    Inspiration taken from a predecessor is usually accidental   ·   If you hope to be a writer, you must read  ·   The writer reads, and asks: why this title? Why this opening scene? This opening sentence? This language? This pacing? This detail, or lack of detail?  ·    Is this story significant enough to have warranted the effort to write it? To read it? Is it original? Convincing? Am I changed in any way by reading it? Have I learned from it?


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