“I’ve shoved a writing table by the biggest window in my sitting room. The only flaw in this arrangement is the constant temptation to go outside and walk over to the cliff’s edge … Writers ought to live far inland or next to the city dump, if they are ever to get any work done. Or perhaps they need to be stronger-minded than I am.”
– Juliet, writing to her editor, Sidney, in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows (2008)
Craft is hard work, but it can also feel like magic. It’s subtle enough to feel instinctual, when it’s really the deeply engrained benefits of practice and experience.
– novelist Natalia Sylvester, on the Writer Unboxed blog, 10/5/18
“People … are all storytellers. We just do it in different ways. And what each one of us is doing is wrestling with the idea of what it means to be alive, and what it means to be human. And when you do this, you not only discover what it means to be human, but what it means to be humane. That is a profound idea and worth doing.”
— Thomas Christopher Greene, quoted in Mystery Scene, No. 158, 2019
Photo: The Bovine Bibiliophile, at The Bookstore, Dillon, Montana
Last month, I happened to be in Missoula the evening that Irish crime writer John Connolly was speaking at Shakespeare & Co., a local independent bookstore. Connolly made a comment about what he called “creative confidence.” I didn’t entirely agree with his comment, but I liked the term. And when I came across this poem from WS Merwin, it struck me as referring to exactly that mysterious, undefinable thing.
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can’t
you can’t you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don’t write
—W.S. Merwin, in “Berryman,” (about a conversation between Merwin (1927-2019) and John Berryman (1914-1972))
“Writing is such a necessary way for me to work through what’s on my mind, what I am feeling, what I am thinking, but because I find such solace in writing, this very thing also compels me to push myself, to look beyond myself, to make sure that what I’m writing is not just for me, but also for readers, whomever they might be. I also work not to diminish the act of writing in what I have written and what I read from other writers. Our words matter.”
– Roxane Gay, in The Writer, Oct 2014
“In order to write, you have to read other people. That’s how you get inspired. Those writers are your teachers. You’re studying the mind of the author you’re reading.”
– Natalie Goldberg, in The Writer, July 2014
“Successful professional writers are not withholding mysterious secrets from eager beginners. The only way anybody ever learns to write well is by trying to write well. This usually begins by reading good writing by other people, and writing very badly by yourself, for a long time. You find out how to make the thing work by working at it – coming back to it, testing it, seeing where it sticks or wobbles or cheats, and figuring out how to make it go where it has to go.”
— Ursula K. LeGuin (1929-2018)
painting: “Bitterroot Winter” by Rachel Warner, collection of the author
I reread Stephen King’s On Writing, originally published in 2000, last year and found that not only did it hold up well, it held bits of wisdom I may have been too inexperienced to grasp back then. But I think I’ve always grasped this pithy principle.
“Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life.”
— Stephen King, On Writing (2000)
With the weather changing, many of us have more time for reading, curling up in a favorite chair with a cup of coffee, tea, or chai and a good book. I’ve got a terrific stack waiting for me! So for October, a few excellent quotes on reading, especially its importance to writers and other creators.
“If I had to choose between writing and reading, I would choose to read, because there is so much I’ve yet to learn, so many worlds I’ve yet to visit, all secreted away between the pages of a book. Writing is what I do and how I communicate. Reading gives me permission for what I do by widening the lanes of my creativity and narrative ambition. Writing is work, but reading is pleasure. …
“Reading was a means to enter a different reality from the physical one I was forced to embody. I don’t want to contemplate how I would have endured these weeks without plunging into books, for pleasure and for research. I’m glad I didn’t have to.”
– Sarah Weinman in “The Year I Went Bald,” about writing her first book, The Real Lolita, while undergoing treatment for breast cancer, in The Walrus
I’m closing out September with one more quote from Conscious Creativity: look, connect, create by British visual artist and actor Philippa Stanton (Leaping Hare Press, 2018). In talking about abstraction, she is speaking in terms not generally applied to the written word, for good reason. But as a writer who also paints on occasion and has learned to love abstract art — okay, some, not all — I think that learning seeing abstractly helps us see connections. And that is what ignites creates new work, whether it be a poem, a dance, a painting, or a song.
“I strongly believe that by involving and connecting yourself to the world around you through abstract form and thought, your mind will become open to seeing much more than words are able to describe. There is so much to look at both inside and outside our minds that can only ever be communicated through image. However, simple expression through image and abstract thought is often undermined or patronized by some who live on words and wit. But emotion can’t always be expressed in a cerebral way and maybe some days an explosion of pink daubs on a blank canvas says it all.”