I don't know how you perceive my mission as a writer, but for me it is not a responsibility to reaffirm your concretized myths and provincial prejudices. It is not my job to lull you with a false sense of the rightness of the universe. This wonderful and terrible occupation of recreating the world in a different way, each time fresh and strange, is an act of revolutionary guerrilla warfare. I stir the soup. I inconvenience you. I make your nose run and your eyeballs water.
People like ourselves may see nothing wondrous in writing, but our anthropologists know how strange and magical it appears to a purely oral people—a conversation with no one and yet with everyone. What could be stranger than the silence one encounters when addressing a question to a text? What could be more metaphysically puzzling than addressing an unseen audience, as every writer of books must do? And correcting oneself because one knows that an unknown reader will disapprove or misunderstand?
You don't always have to go so far as to murder your darlings—those turns of phrase or images of which you felt extra proud when they appeared on the page – but go back and look at them with a very beady eye. Almost always it turns out that they'd be better dead. (Not every little twinge of satisfaction is suspect—it's the ones which amount to a sort of smug glee you must watch out for.)
I talk about the things people have always talked about in stories: pain, hate, truth, courage, destiny, friendship, responsibility, growing old, growing up, falling in love, all of these things. What I try to write about are the darkest things in the soul, the mortal dreads. I try to go into those places in me that contain the cauldrous. I want to dip up the fire, and I want to put it on paper. The closer I get to the burning core of my being, the things which are most painful to me, the better is my work.
You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished.
I think that to write well and convincingly, one must be somewhat poisoned by emotion. Dislike, displeasure, resentment, fault-finding, imagination, passionate remonstrance, a sense of injustice—they all make fine fuel.
You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there's no free lunch. Writing is work. It's also gambling. You don't get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but essentially you're on your own. Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don't whine.
There are so many different kinds of writing and so many ways to work that the only rule is this:do what works. Almost everything has been tried and found to succeed for somebody. The methods, even the ideas, of successful writers contradict each other in a most heartening way, and the only element I find common to all successful writers is persistence—an overwhelming determination to succeed.
I have myself always been terrified of plagiarism—of being accused of it, that is. Every writer is a thief, though some of us are more clever than others at disguising our robberies. The reason writers are such slow readers is that we are ceaselessly searching for things we can steal and then pass off as our own: a natty bit of syntax, a seamless transition, a metaphor that jumps to its target like an arrow shot from an aluminum crossbow.
"The problem with novels is you can spend a whole year writing one and it might not turn out well because you haven’t learned to write yet. But the best hygiene for beginning writers or intermediate writers is to write a hell of a lot short of stories. If you can write one short story a week, doesn’t matter what the quality is to start, but at least you are practicing. And at the end of the year you have 52 short stories. And I defy you to write 52 bad ones. It can’t be done. At the end of 30 weeks or 40 weeks or the end of the year all of sudden a story will come that is wonderful. That is what happened to me. I started writing when I was 12 and I was 22 before I wrote my first decent short story. That is a hell of a lot of writing, a million words, because I was doing everything wrong…Write short stories and you will be in training and you’ll learn to compact things, you’ll learn to look for ideas, and the psychological thing here is that every week you’ll be happy. At the end of the week you’ll have done something. But in a novel you don’t know where the hell you are going. At the end of a week you don’t feel all that good…I waited until I was 30 before I wrote my first novel. That was “Farenheit 451,” it was worth waiting for. I was fearful of novels. I recognized the danger of spending a year on something that might not be very good. And your second novel might not be very good, and your third one. But on the meantime you can write 52 or 104 short stories, and you are learning your craft; that’s the important thing."
See the lecture from where this quote came from here.
I am a trader of jacks and a jack of all trades!
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