Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Push it. Examine all things intensely and relentlessly. Probe and search each object in a piece of art. Do not leave it, do not course over it, as if it were understood, but instead follow it down until you see it in the mystery of its own specificity and strength.

Giacometti’s drawings and paintings show his bewilderment and persistence. If he had not acknowledged his bewilderment, he would not have persisted.

One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.

Flannery O’Connor, Mystery & Manners

One of the most common and saddest spectacles is that of a person of really fine sensibility and acute psychological perception trying to write fiction by using these qualities alone. This type of writer will put down one intensely emotional or keenly perceptive sentence after the other, and the result will be complete dullness. The fact is that the materials of the fiction writer are the humblest. Fiction is about everything human and we are made out of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldn’t try to write fiction. It’s not a grand enough job for you.

(T)here’s a certain grain of stupidity that the writer of fiction can hardly do without, and this is the quality of having to stare, of not getting the point at once.

Everybody thinks he knows what a story is. But if you ask a beginning student to write a story, you’re liable to get almost anything–a reminiscence, an episode, an opinion, an anecdote, anything under the sun but a story.

The fiction writer has to realize that he can’t create compassion with compassion, or emotion with emotion, or thought with thought. He has to provide all these things with a body; he has to create a world with weight and extension. I have found that the stories of beginning writers usually bristle with emotion, but whose emotion is often very hard to determine. Dialogue frequently proceeds without the assistance of any characters that you can actually see, and uncontained thought leaks out of every corner of the story. The reason is usually that the student is wholly interested in his thoughts and his emotions and not in his dramatic action.

People have a habit of saying, “What is the theme of your story?”… (They) have the notion that you read the story and then climb out of it into the meaning, but for the fiction writer himself the whole story is the meaning… When you can state the theme of a story, when you can separate it from the story itself, then you can be sure the story is not a very good one. The meaning of the story has to be embodied in it, has to be made concrete in it. A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is. You tell a story because a statement would be insufficient.

Ron Carlson, Ron Carlson Writes a Story

The single largest advantage a veteran writer has over the beginner is this tolerance for not knowing. It’s not style, or any other dexterity. An experienced writer has been in those woods before and is willing to be lost.

Action is narrative evidence. It proves as it goes, whereas adjectival telling (she was careless) alerts us to how a character might be, but doesn’t prove it with the force good drama requires. How many kinds of careless are there? Just over a jillion. Which was she?

Solve all your problems in the physical world. If you have a scene that’s stalled or muddled, go back into it carefully and write the next thing that happens in real time. Don’t think, but watch instead: occupy.

You have to write your way into the event deeply enough so that getting out will be a struggle.

Fernando Pessoa

Sincerity is the one great artistic crime. Insincerity is the second greatest. The great artist should never have a really fundamental and sincere opinion about life. But that should give him the capacity to feel sincere, nay, to be absolutely sincere, about anything for a certain length of time—that length of time, say, which is necessary for a poem to be conceived and written.

Akira Kurosawa

To be an artist means never to avert your eyes.

Samuel Beckett

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

Published on May 25, 2008 at 1:13 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Fail better! Ha! That is a stone-cold awesome quote to wrap up the page with. (‘With which to wrap up the page,’ curse my teacherly sensibilities getting in the way of smooth colloquial communication.)

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