“An artist works outside the realm of strict logic. Simply knowing one’s intention and then executing it does not make good art. Artists know this. According to Donald Barthelme: “The writer is that person who, embarking upon her task, does not know what to do.” Gerald Stern put it this way: “If you start out to write a poem about two dogs fucking, and you write a poem about two dogs fucking – then you wrote a poem about two dogs fucking.” Einstein, always the smarty-pants, outdid them both: “No worthy problem is ever solved in the plane of its original conception.””An artist works outside the realm of strict logic. Simply knowing one’s intention and then executing it does not make good art. Artists know this. According to Donald Barthelme: “The writer is that person who, embarking upon her task, does not know what to do.” Gerald Stern put it this way: “If you start out to write a poem about two dogs fucking, and you write a poem about two dogs fucking – then you wrote a poem about two dogs fucking.” Einstein, always the smarty-pants, outdid them both: “No worthy problem is ever solved in the plane of its original conception.”
How, then, to proceed? My method is: I imagine a meter mounted in my forehead, with “P” on this side (“Positive”) and “N” on this side (“Negative”). I try to read what I’ve written uninflectedly, the way a first-time reader might (“without hope and without despair”). Where’s the needle? Accept the result without whining. Then edit, so as to move the needle into the “P” zone. Enact a repetitive, obsessive, iterative application of preference: watch the needle, adjust the prose, watch the needle, adjust the prose (rinse, lather, repeat), through (sometimes) hundreds of drafts. Like a cruise ship slowly turning, the story will start to alter course via those thousands of incremental adjustments.”George Saunders, What Writers Really Do When They Write
“Action is hope. At the end of each day, when you’ve done your work, you lie there and think, Well, I’ll be damned, I did this today. It doesn’t matter how good it is, or how bad—you did it. At the end of the week you’ll have a certain amount of accumulation. At the end of a year, you look back and say, I’ll be damned, it’s been a good year.”Ray Bradbury
“Every sentence has a truth waiting at the end of it and the writer learns how to know it when he finally gets there. On one level this truth is the swing of the sentence, the beat and poise, but down deeper it’s the integrity of the writer as he matches with the language. I’ve always seen myself in sentences. I begin to recognize myself, word by word, as I work through a sentence. The language of my books has shaped me as a man. There’s a moral force in a sentence when it comes out right. It speaks the writer’s will to live.”Don DeLillo, Mao II
“You have to put in the time. If you are not there, the words will not appear. Simple as that.
A writer is not someone who thinks obsessively about writing, or talks about it, or plans it, or dissects it, or even reveres it: a writer is the one who puts his arse in the chair when the last thing he wants to do is have his arse in the chair.”Colm McCann, So You Want to be a Writer?
“Abandon the idea of predetermination, the shaping force of your intention, until you’ve given it up for good. Bring your intentions, by all means, but accept that the language we use is a language of accidentals, always skewing away from the course we set. This is not something to mourn but to revel in – not only for the friction and sideslip inherent in the language but for freeing us from the narrowness of our preconceptions.”Several Short Sentences About Writing (p.109), Verlyn Klinkenborg
“I’m repeatedly asked how I write, what my “process” is. My answer is simple: I think patiently, trying out sentences in my head. That is the root of it. What happens on paper or at the keyboard is only distantly connected. The virtue of working this way is that circumstances — time, place, tools — make no difference whatsoever. All I need is my head. All I need is the moments I have.
There’s no magic here. Practice these things, and you’ll stop fearing what happens when it’s time to make sentences worth inscribing. You’ll no longer feel as though a sentence is a glandular secretion from some cranial inkwell that’s always on the verge of drying up. You won’t be able to say precisely where sentences come from — there is no where there — but you’ll know how to wait patiently as they emerge and untangle themselves. You’ll discover the most important thing your education left out: how to trust and value your own thinking. And you’ll also discover one of things writing is for: pleasure.”Where Do Sentences Come From?, Verlyn Klinkenborg
“One day not too long ago I sat down at the desk, determined to sit there until at least one thought clarified itself sufficiently to serve the essay I was writing. I failed. Next day I sat down again. Again, I failed. Three days later, same thing. But the day after that the fog cleared out of my head. I solved a simple writing problem, one that had seemed intractable, and a stone rolled off my chest. Once again, and perhaps for the 4000th time since leaving analysis, I thanked the daily effort, my gratitude profuse. I saw what by now I’d seen many times before: It wasn’t the writing itself that was everything, it was sitting down to it every day that was everything. It’s the miserable daily effort that is everything. It is when I am honoring it that I become a woman still set on inhabiting a serious life.” (emphasis mine)Vivian Gornick, A Serious Woman (cited in Mason Currey’s Subtle Maneuvers newsletter)
“In my experience, inspiration is not something that finds you, or offers itself to you, nor for that matter is faith. Inspiration and faith are similar in so far as they both ask something of us. They each require real and constant practical application. For me, inspiration comes only when I practice certain things regularly and rigorously. I must commit fully to the task in hand, sit down each day, pick up my pencil (actually it is a medium black or blue Bic Biro) and get to work. It is not exactly toiling down the coal mines, but it is labour enough, and I undertake it through the good times and the bad, through the dry periods and the periods of abundance, and I keep on going regardless of my successes or failures. Inspiration comes because I put in the work.”Nick Cave, The Red Hand Files (06.10.22)
“Pleasure is the pleasure of the powers that create a truth that cannot be arrived at by reason alone, a truth that the poet recognizes by sensation. The morality of the poet’s radiant and productive atmosphere is the morality of the right sensation.”Wallace Stevens
“To write a genuine familiar or truly English style is to write as anyone would speak in common conversation, who had a thorough command and choice of words, or who could discourse with ease, force, and perspicuity, setting aside all pedantic and oratorical flourishes.”William Hazlitt