THE WRITING LIFE…

The Writing Life
Writers on how they think and work.
edited by
Marie Arana

But if readers carry away one lesson from this book it should be that writers learn their craft, above all, from the work of other writers. From reading. They learn it from immersing themselves in books. They do not learn it from classrooms, or workshops, or manuals – they cannot be programmed to perform. It is, in essence, lonely work; isolation is what they must learn to savor…. Come what may, they must go to their desks alone. p. xv

Francine du Plessix Gray, Rage and Fire, At Home with the Marquise de Sade.

I give my course a stark little title such as “The Writing of the Text” and proceed to organize my remarks around four central principles: Keep Your Sentences Erotic, Create a Pact of Trust, Strive for Muscle and Rebel Against the Tyranny of Genre. p. 6

Keep your sentences erotic: “She turns on the steps to look back at me before descending into a jasmine-scented, cricket-mad dusk of a small train station, ” Nabokov”s Speak Memory and “The young man”s eyes had the opal lightings of dark oil and… fed too strongly inward to draw to a focus: whereas those of the young woman had each the splendor of a monstrance, and were brass,” Agee”s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. p. 6

In order to not become tediously predictable, a good writer, like a good lover, must create a pact of trust with the object of his/her seduction that remains qualified, paradoxically, by a good measure of uncertainty, mystery and surprise. p. 7

In sum, writers must practice, with impeccable craft, the techniques of verbal foreplay. p. 7

Joanna Trollope, Girl From The South.

But what you can”t teach, it seems to me, is the right kind of observation or the right kind of interpretation of what you have observed. It worries me to think of all those earnest pupils who have diligently mastered the mechanics, wondering with varying degrees of misery and rage why the finished recipe just hasn”t somehow worked. p. 21

Erica Jong, Seducing the Demon.

In a world of bookkeepers with spreadsheets, the one who gives it away without counting the cost is God. p. 67

As a reader, I want a book to kidnap me into its world. Its world must make the so-called real world seem flimsy. Its world must lure me to return. When I close the book, I should feel bereft.

How rare this is and how grateful I am to find it. The utter trust that exists between reader and author is like the trust between lovers. If I feel betrayed by the author, I will never surrender to him or her again. p. 69

Jayne Anne Phillips, Black Tickets.

Writing as practice is more similar to meditation, which requests nothing. There is the same silence and the waiting, but writers are notoriously failed seekers. We watch our thoughts arise and practice attachment, fascinated by the dance of the flames. There”s a mystery to penetrate within that heat, one that defies boundaries. Writers grow up with permeable selves and the very process of secrecy feels familiar. p. 93

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