QUOTES ABOUT WRITING
“All those I think who have lived as
literary men — working daily as literary labourers — will agree with me that
three hours a day will produce as much as a man ought to write.”
Anthony Trollope (who wrote 47 novels)
“Three hours is fine.” Peter Carey
Alice Munro did three hours, Somerset Maugham four.
“I don’t think you can write a poem for more than two hours. After that you’re going round in circles, and it’s much better to leave it for twenty-four hours, by which time your subconscious or whatever has solved the block and you’re ready to go on . . . I don’t read much. Books I’m sent to review. Otherwise novels I’ve read before. Detective stories: Gladys Mitchell, Michael Innes, Dick Francis. I’m reading Framley Parsonage at the moment. Nothing difficult . . . I was looking at The Whitsun Weddings [the poem] just the other day, and found that I began it sometime in the summer of 1957. After three pages, I dropped it for another poem that in fact was finished but never published. I picked it up again, in March 1958, and worked on it till October, when it was finished. But when I look at the diary I was keeping at the time, I see that the kind of incident it describes happened in July 1955! So in all, it took over three years. Of course, that’s an exception. But I did write slowly, partly because you’re finding out what to say as well as how to say it, and that takes time.” Philip Larkin in The Paris Review
“Once you go saying to yourself, ‘This is a pretty weak plot as it stands, but I’m such a hell of a writer that my magic touch will make it okay,’ you're sunk.” P G Woodhouse
“People are exasperated by poetry they do not understand and contemptuous of poetry they understand without effort.” TS Eliot
“You have a vacation when you do something you like better than your work. But there isn’t anything I like better than my work. My vacation therefore exists all year long — except when I am forced to go away.” Isaac Asimov
“I used to believe that I should perfect the work and life could fuck itself. Now I’m not doing anything, all I’ve got is a fucked-up life.” Philip Larkin
“The artistic temperament is a disease that affects amateurs.” GK Chesterton
“When one turns to the magnificent edifice of the physical sciences, and sees how it was reared; what thousands of disinterested moral lives of men lie buried in its mere foundations; what patience and postponement, what choking down of preference, what submissions to the icy laws of outer fact are wrought into its very stones and mortar; how absolutely impersonal it stands in its vast augustness – then how besotted and contemptible seems every little sentimentalist who comes blowing his voluntary smoke-wreaths, and pretending to decide things from out of his private dream! Can we wonder if those bred in the rugged and manly school of science should feel like spewing such subjectivism out of their mouths?” William James
“ . . . my nature is subdued / To what it works in, like the dyer’s hand.” Shakespeare
I always wanted to write poetry, the Swiss watch of words, but was stalled for decades. In my fifties I saw that the key is finding the story, as a journalist has to find the angle. All those decades I’d been abandoning poems because they had no storyline, the strong idea without which it’s wankery. The ideal short story has an interesting idea to get you in, and another, derived from the first, to get you out; ideally a poem is the same. To My Young Wife would qualify, but you can wing it with only one idea.
The purpose of a poem is to make the poet look good. Make yourself look bad and you’re instantly original. This mustn’t be romantic badness, but a shaming pettiness: spite, envy, cowardice, etc.
Maybe you have to put up with being a bit lonely, like models being hungry.
The key artistic injunction is “Don’t be boring,” but it’s also “Don’t be bored.” If necessary write about something that pains you.
The right attitude is: I can do this, but I haven’t yet.
Most novelists are boring and lazy. Because they’re boring their own lives aren’t interesting, and because they’re lazy they don’t research more interesting lives. Hence dull books by dull people about dull people. Compare this with George Smiley, Harry Flashman, Aubrey/Maturin.