Thursday, August 24, 2023

Words From the Masters

As I struggle along with my work in progress, I take comfort from knowing that great literary masters had the same problems with writing that the rest of us do. One difficulty I have is picking up where I left off. I usually re-read everything I wrote the day before, which usually leads me right back into my novel's world. 

Hemingway suggested that you always know exactly what word comes next before you stop writing for the day. Sometimes he'd stop right in the middle of a sentence. I've tried this and find it to be an excellent tip.

I recently read an essay by John Barth, author of Lost in the Funhouse and professor of creative writing at Johns Hopkins, in which he advised that the number one rule of writing is to be wary of rules of writing. The exact quote is: "I myself advise that you merely perpend such advisements and predilections, including mine to follow, en route to discovering by hunch, feel, trial, and error what best floats your particular boat." (Aside: anybody who plays language like an instrument, as Barth does, is okay with me.)

Somerset Maugham followed a similar rule. An interviewer once asked him if he kept a strict writing schedule or if he simply waited for the Muse to strike him before he sat down to compose. He replied, "Oh, I wait for the Muse to strike. Fortunately she strikes every morning at precisely nine o'clock."

My piece of advice? The number one thing that works for me is just to sit down and do it and quit trying to figure out how to do it. Quit fooling around, Donis. The dishes will wait.

p.s. I looked up the Somerset Maugham in an attempt to get the above quote right, and I must say that Maugham is a fountainhead of quotable wisdom. Here are a couple that particularly spoke to me:

"The great American novel has not only already been written, it has already been rejected."

"There are three rules for writing a novel Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."

"You can do anything in this world if you are prepared to take the consequences."

And this, which seems especially apt right about now: "My own belief is that there is hardly anyone whose sexual life, if it were broadcast, would not fill the world at large with surprise and horror.”

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