Falling short: seven writers reflect on failure is a collection of seven short essays on failure by writers Diana Athill, Margaret Atwood, Julian Barnes, Anne Enright, Howard Jacobson, Will Self and Lionel Shriver. These range from the meditative to the funny. Essays reflecting on literary failure are legion, but let me point you towards a couple more, the brief Failure Is Our Muse by Stephen Marche and the longer Fail Better by Zadie Smith.
Writing is a strange and solitary activity. There are dispiriting times when you start working on the first few pages of a novel. Every day, you have the feeling you are on the wrong track. This creates a strong urge to go back and follow a different path. It is important not to give in to this urge, but to keep going. It is a little like driving a car at night, in winter, on ice, with zero visibility. You have no choice, you cannot go into reverse, you must keep going forward while telling yourself that all will be well when the road becomes more stable and the fog lifts.—From Patrick Modiano's lecture when receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature [Original French, Swedish and video] which is about cities, old telephone directories but mostly about writing, how to do it and what it's like.
By Heart is a series on The Atlantic's website where writers speak about their favorite passages, each illustrated by Doug McLean. Here are a few of the entries so far: Stephen King on two opening lines, Hanan Al-Shaykh on One Thousand and One Nights, Susan Choi on The Great Gatsby, Jessica Francis Kane on Marcus Aurelius, Fay Weldon on The Myth of Sisyphus, Adam Mansbach on Montaigne, Ayana Mathis on Osip Mandelstam, Anthony Marra on Jesus' Son, and Mohsin Hamid on Haruki Murakami.
In June 1979, I left Paris, returning home to San Francisco without saying farewell to Barthes. Why advertise my failure? I left Paris without fulfilling my reason for coming. His letter arrived in October. Barthes explained that he was retiring from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes at the end of the year. If I wished to complete my thesis under his direction, then I would have to have it written and in his hands by the 15th of December. No extension was possible. The date was a deadline. "A vous de jouer," he wrote. "Your move."- Deadline [pdf] by Stewart Lindh, Roland Barthes' last doctoral student, is an account of how he wrote his Ph.D. thesis.
Lists of Note is a new site from Shaun Usher, proprietor of Letters of Note. It posts interesting lists, running the gamut from funny to poignant, mostly by famous people, though other sources crop up. Here's a sampling of lists: Johnny Cash, Walt Whitman, Eero Saarinen, Don Carman, Marilyn Monroe and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
William Gibson has been taking questions on his long-dormant blog since March 31st and continued until today. Some favorites, Gibson talking about: how writing is hard, that he started watching The Wire because of the shipping containers, George Bush's raincoat and his first attempt at fiction.
In How to Write a Great Novel authors such as Edwidge Danticat, Hilary Mantel, Orhan Pamuk, Junot Díaz and Margaret Atwood speak about their writing process. If you want your thoughts on writing in a longer format, you could do a lot worse than The New York Times' Writers on Writing series, which features short essays by, for example, Kurt Vonnegut, Saul Bellow, Louise Erdrich and Annie Proulx. Should you thirst for meditations longer yet, Barbara Demarco-Barrett has on her Writers on Writing radio show interviewed a boatload of authors and it is available as a podcast [iTunes link]