The Courage To Write: How Writers Transcend Fear
Ralph Keyes

Authors always feel in danger of being abandoned by loved ones. This is a potent fear Yet it”s as inevitable as writer”s cramp when we presume to write words for others to read. p. 45

“I don”t see how you can write fiction honestly and ably without interfering with serious relationships,” concluded [Gordon] Lish. p. 48

All he knew for sure about Carol was that she didn”t want to wind up in a book. p. 52

Isn”t disloyalty as much the writer”s virtue as loyalty is the soldier”s? -Graham Green. p. 53

“My art is more important than my friend.” -Willa Cather. p. 56

“The great poet or writer is faced by the dilemma that in order to accomplish his art he must be a selfish person. Think how James Joyce, for example, sacrificed his family.” -Stephen Spender. p. 57

“I thought that raising a family was a lot more important than writing,” said [Ken] Kesey. p. 57

“Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow that talent to the dark place where it leads.” -Erica Jong. p. 64

Writing about others and risking their wrath takes one type of courage. Writing from within – as [Sherri] Szeman did [in The Kommandant”s Mistress] – takes another. Unlike the more conscious fear of others, anxiety about our inner world tends to be repressed. It often shows up in disguise. The most common disguise is fear of them, their opinions of us, when it”s actually our own opinion of ourselves that we”re worried about. In psychological terms, much of our fear about the reaction of others is a projection of our own anxieties. p. 65

“You go to the dark places so that you can get there, steal the trophy and get out,” said [Frederick] Busch. “That is more important that to be psychologically safe.” p. 67

…the question remains, “How could you even think the things you wrote about?” The corollary to that question is, “I”m not sure how I feel about someone who has thoughts like that.” p. 72

One of the worst things you can say about a colleague is that he played it safe. p. 75

There is no basic difference between a writer”s urge to put words on paper and that of DEENA to scrawl her name in wet sidewalk cement, or “The Duke” to spray-paint his nickname on city walls. A need for attention drives us. Recognition Immortality. And why not? One of the most fundamental of human fears is that our existence will go unnoticed. We”d all like to have it recorded somewhere. What better way to achieve this goal than by writing? Long after maggots have had their way with my corpse, my name will still be on the spines of books in the Library of Congress. I”m on the record. p. 79

Misfits spend a lot of time alone. Future writers use that time to make up imaginary playmates. As outsiders, they develop a habit of observing others. And being rejected by other kids not only fills young authors-to-be with grievances in need of redress but gets them used to being disliked. That puts them in a very strong artistic position. Putting people off feels like business as usual. p. 86

Lawrence Block spent a long apprenticeship producing hack fiction. Too long. After he wrote a mainstream novel in the early 1960s, a Random House editor suggested some changes. This made Block angry. He withdrew the manuscript and went back to writing pot boilers. It took Block years to realize the real reason he hadn”t responded to this editor”s suggestions was fear that he couldn”t pull the project off. As he finally concluded, his anger at her “was simply a smokescreen I had thrown up to conceal my fear from myself.” I would be another fourteen years before Lawrence Block started writing the Matt Scudder mysteries that won him critical acclaim and devoted readers. “Fear is the mind killer,” he concluded, “an unacknowledged fear is the worst kind.” p. 93

“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands” necks. Anything can happen.” -Raymond Carver. p. 126

Bold writers have the same relationship to readers that a juggler has to his crowd. When they seem about to catch an errant machete by the blade, their readers stay glued to the page. p. 127

Boxing manager Cus D”Amato told his fighters, “Fear is your best friend.” By this, D”Amato meant that boxers who weren”t afraid let their attention wander. A fighter with anything on his mind other than the man trying to knock him out soon found himself on the floor looking up at another man in a bow tie counting to ten. p. 130

Tom Wolfe had gone to Los Angeles to report for Esquire on car customizing. He then found himself unable to compose a coherent article from his notes. During an all-night, deadline-driven writing stint Wolfe finally typed up forty-nine pages of those notes as a memo to Esquire”s managing editor. The next day this editor called Wolfe to say that they were going to publish his memo untouched. It ran as “The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby.” p. 154

3 Responses to “THE COURAGE TO WRITE…”

  1. […] The book came recommended by my writer friend John Ettorre. It seemed to appropriate at this point in my life that I’ve moved it to the top of the My Chapbook queue and the first mention will appear on Thursday, 29 March. If you’re impatient to see what I’ve pulled out of the book, you can read it directly from my electronic chapbook. […]

  2. Cee Jay says:

    I used to have a friend in college who spent all his time in the student union taking notes on a spiral pad. He had dozens of notebooks full of ?? that I couldn’t read. Maybe he could read it and and maybe not. He also had borrowed half the library and taken notes on the books, but he never could bring himself to write the papers he needed to get his Master’s Degree, all IP’s or F’s. He finally dropped out and owed half his life to the KSU library in overdue fines. I was always afraid I might end up in a book if he ever got to the point of writing one. He took a lot of notes on his friends. Maybe he needed more interesting friends.

    I’m not sure why I am writing this, except that your notes from the book you read reminded me of my friend Charlie.
    Cee Jay

  3. Jeff Hess says:

    Shalom Cee Jay,

    I once had a lover tell me after a break-up that I did not have her permission to use anything she’d told me in a book.

    What I couldn’t tell her, or even try to make her understand is that that is a restriction that no writer can follow, even if they wanted to.

    While I have no interest in doing a tell-all book or naming names, every experience in my life, and those experience shared with me, are fodder for my writing.

    Often it happens organically, a scene or an event is woven in with no conscious recollection of its origin.

    As to your friend’s spiral notebooks, barring mental illness — the images of Robert Crumb’s brother in the movie Crumb comes to mind — I think it very well may be that he was not-writing the next Great American Novel.

    I don’t usually think of my self as a particularly brave individual, but I have done the nude-down-main-street stroll more than a few times. It’s just that nobody has waved a check at me yet.



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