The habitual liar may be a very honest fellow, and live truly with his wife and friends; while another man who never told a formal falsehood in his life may yet be himself one lie-heart and face, from top to bottom. This is the kind of lie which poisons intimacy. And, vice versa, veracity to sentiment, truth in a relation, truth to your own heart and your friends, never to feign or falsify emotion—that is the truth which makes love possible and mankind happy. Robert Louis Stevenson on truth and writing.
I never correct anything and I never go back to what I have written, except to the foot of the last page to see where I have got to. If you once look back, you are lost. How could you have written this drivel? How could you have used "terrible" six times on one page? And so forth. If you interrupt the writing of fast narrative with too much introspection and self-criticism, you will be lucky if you write 500 words a day and you will be disgusted with them into the bargain. A year before his death, James Bond author Ian Fleming explained how to write a thriller.
Adelle Waldman, author of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., was a lonely aspiring writer in New York, generally unhappy. Then she moved to Brooklyn and found that community made all the difference.
You have demons in your subconscious? In a fantasy world those demons can get out, where you can grapple with them face to face. The story I was telling was impossible, and I believed in it more than I believed in the 10,000 entirely reasonable, plausible things I’d written before. Lev Grossman, author of the Magicians series of books, on how he found his voice as a fantasy novelist.
If I said to you, “Describe Anna Karenina,” perhaps you’d mention her beauty. If you were reading closely you’d mention her “thick lashes,” her weight, or maybe even her little downy mustache (yes—it’s there). Matthew Arnold remarks upon “Anna’s shoulders, and masses of hair, and half-shut eyes … ” But what does Anna Karenina look like? What do we see when we read?
Aspiring writers often ask established authors, "How did you do it?" The truth is that there is no single path to literary success. We sent a nonscientific survey to writers participating in the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books: Did they keep a diary as a child? Did they ever have a book rejected? Did they earn a living from writing? We tabulated more than 200 responses to make the board game below. Roll a die and see where the writing life takes you.
The drama issues from the assailability of vital, tenacious men with their share of peculiarities who are neither mired in weakness nor made of stone and who, almost inevitably, are bowed by blurred moral vision, real and imaginary culpability, conflicting allegiances, urgent desires, uncontrollable longings, unworkable love, the culprit passion, the erotic trance, rage, self-division, betrayal, drastic loss, vestiges of innocence, fits of bitterness, lunatic entanglements, consequential misjudgment, understanding overwhelmed, protracted pain, false accusation, unremitting strife, illness, exhaustion, estrangement, derangement, aging, dying and, repeatedly, inescapable harm, the rude touch of the terrible surprise — unshrinking men stunned by the life one is defenseless against, including especially history: the unforeseen that is constantly recurring as the current moment.Philip Roth on his life as a writer.
The city is a fountain that never stops: it generates its energy from the human interactions that take place in it. Unfortunately, we’re getting to a point where many of New York’s citizens have been excluded from this equation for too long. David Byrne comments on New York's hospitability to creative types.
It is doubtless tempting to exclaim against the ignorant bourgeois; yet it should not be forgotten, it is he who is to pay us, and that (surely on the face of it) for services that he shall desire to have performed. Here also, if properly considered, there is a question of transcendental honesty. To give the public what they do not want, and yet expect to be supported: we have there a strange pretension, and yet not uncommon, above all with painters. The first duty in this world is for a man to pay his way; when that is quite accomplished, he may plunge into what eccentricity he likes; but emphatically not till then. Till then, he must pay assiduous court to the bourgeois who carries the purse. Robert Louis Stevenson on art as a career.
Your parent dies. You hurt. You weep. You mourn. You do and say the necessary things even as your daemon’s disciplined askesis has you (against your will) coldly taking notes on what the emotion feels like, how others around you react to the death, what the corpse of your parent looks like, how you feel while looking down at it, what voids there are in that feeling, what pretenses, what posturings. It's all part of finding your daemon that dwells perpetually in the Condition of Fire. Other entries in Dan Simmons' series On Writing Well.
Have literary journals lost their cultural relevance? Ted Genoways, former editor of the Virginia Quarterly suggests they have, and are relegated to publishing masses of material, often submitted by waves of new MFA graduates, that few read. Others question the definition of relevance. The journals do continue to proliferate, generating constant fresh material for a review that reviews them, a database that writers use to sort through them, and agents who comb through them looking for the next literary sensation. Perhaps only print journals are in real trouble?
Cynthia Ozick on Henry James: The Lesson of the Master: ...in earlier days I felt I had been betrayed by Henry James. I was like the youthful writer in “The Lesson of the Master” who believed in the Master’s call to live immaculately, unspoiled by what we mean when we say “life”—relationship, family mess, distraction, exhaustion, anxiety, above all disappointment.
The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books catalogs the top ten favorite books of over 140 major authors and growing, including Louis D. Rubin, Jim Harrison, David Foster Wallace, David Leavitt, Paul Auster, Michael Chabon, and many more. Here's the list of books rank-ordered by frequency and here are other lists compiled from the statistics.
The WritersDiet Test, created by Dr. Helen Sword, allows you to enter a writing sample of 100 to 1000 words and have it graded from "lean" to "heart attack" on its level of excess verbiage.
"Readers who demand verifiable truth in nonfiction—who were upset about James Frey, for example—are unsophisticated and ignorant, D’Agata said, and he wants to change that." Dan Kois reviews The Lifespan of a Fact, the transcript of the editorial battle between author and fact-checker on John D'agata's piece in the Believer (excerpt; full article requires payment) on the suicide of Levi Presley, who killed himself by jumping off the observation deck of the Stratosphere in Las Vegas in 2002.
"In this column I want to look at a not uncommon way of writing and structuring books. This approach, I will argue, involves the writer announcing at the outset what he or she will be doing in the pages that follow."