“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature. If a writer can make people live there may be no great characters in his book, but it is possible that his book will remain as a whole; as an entity; as a novel. If the people the writer is making talk of old masters; of music; of modern painting; of letters; or of science then they should talk of those subjects in the novel. If they do not talk of these subjects and the writer makes them talk of them he is a faker, and if he talks about them himself to show how much he knows then he is showing off. No matter how good a phrase or a simile he may have if he puts it in where it is not absolutely necessary and irreplaceable he is spoiling his work for egotism. Prose is architecture, not interior decoration, and the Baroque is over. For a writer to put his own intellectual musings, which he might sell for a low price as essays, into the mouths of artificially constructed characters which are more remunerative when issued as people in a novel is good economics, perhaps, but does not make literature. People in a novel, not skillfully constructed characters, must be projected from the writer’s assimilated experience, from his knowledge, from his head, from his heart and from all there is of him. If he ever has luck as well as seriousness and gets them out entire they will have more than one dimension and they will last a long time. A good writer should know as near everything as possible. Naturally he will not. A great enough writer seems to be born with knowledge. But he really is not; he has only been born with the ability to learn in a quicker ratio to the passage of time than other men and without conscious application, and with an intelligence to accept or reject what is already presented as knowledge. There are some things which cannot be learned quickly and time, which is all we have, must be paid heavily for their acquiring. They are the very simplest things and because it takes a man’s life to know them the little new that each man gets from life is very costly and the only heritage he has to leave. Every novel which is truly written contributes to the total of knowledge which is there at the disposal of the next writer who comes, but the next writer must pay, always, a certain nominal percentage in experience to be able to understand and assimilate what is available as his birthright and what he must, in turn, take his departure from. If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing. A writer who appreciates the seriousness of writing so little that he is anxious to make people see he is formally educated, cultured or well-bred is merely a popinjay. And this too remember; a serious writer is not to be confounded with a solemn writer. A serious writer may be a hawk or a buzzard or even a popinjay, but a solemn writer is always a bloody owl.”
To be truthful, some writers stop you dead in your tracks by making you see your own work in the most unflattering light. Each of us will meet a different harbinger of personal failure, some innocent genius chosen by us for reasons having to do with what we see as our own inadequacies.
The only remedy to this I have found is to read a writer whose work is entirely different from another, though not necessarily more like your own—a difference that will remind you of how many rooms there are in the house of art.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
One day I will find the right words and they will be simple.
Good humor may be said to be one of the very best articles of dress one can wear in society.
Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on. Reading is the unbelievably healthy way my attention deficity disorder medicates itself. Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss.
Yesterday at work (remember I work now at a bookstore), a young teen, about sixteen, asked me for the bookLord of the Flies by William Goldin. As I was searching for it in our system he proceeded to tell me that he had read it once and did not like it. I told him I had read the book when I was about his age and said I actually enjoyed it.
Before he let me finish explaining why, he responded by telling me that he knew it was a good book because it had a deeper meaning. For the next few seconds he attempted to detail to me that deeper meaning. Unfortunately I had a customer come up and interrupt our conversation so I was not able to let him know one important point I wanted to make.
Regardless of whether the book had what he thought was a “deeper meaning”, and despite the fact that I enjoyed it but he did not, these factors do not necessarily make the story good. On one level—the literary or technique of writing level, the story is, in fact, a good story. But I understood what he meant, he did not prefer that story because his tastes where of a different ilk. I wanted to explain to him that that was actually okay, not to get discouraged as a reader. Keep trying to find works that you enjoy, there are millions of books out there and certainly of those he could find plenty of stories he’ll end up enjoying—some with “deeper meanings.”
The thing that struck me about him was that he had a pretty good grasp of what Golding had written in Lord of the Flies, and in my experience this is rare for sixteen year old boys. Most sixteen year old boys don’t give a rat’s ass about Golding, his stories, or whether they understand them or not. I was afraid he mistook my comment that I enjoyed Lord of the Flies as a message that because I enjoyed it, he must enjoy it too. That was certainly not my intent. I hope he continues to read.
A ratio of failures is built into the process of writing. The wastebasket has evolved for a reason.