Literature’s DNA: practical advice for the young writer


"When I am working on a book or story I write every morning as soon
after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is
cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read
what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is
going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to
a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next
and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it

You don’t have to be in Hemingway’s league to assent to
the truth of every word. He perfectly describes the trancelike rhythm
into which most writers fall when a book is going well, and it’s the
prospect of such days, however rare, that keeps the writer returning,
however fruitlessly, to his desk. When those days happen, and they
sometimes do, nothing – nothing – is more utterly absorbing and
fulfilling than to sit (or, as Hemingway did, stand) in solitude,
tinkering with sentences, in tune with this small verbal world of your
own making.

So, too, there’s comfort in hearing Didion speak of
writing fiction as "a fraught business, an occasion of daily dread for
at least the first half of the novel, and sometimes all the way
though", and of how each morning she retypes a string of
already-written pages to get herself past "that blank terror". Truman
Capote, interviewed in 1957, when he was 32, long before the killer
mixture of celebrity, drugs and alcohol wrecked his life and writing,
talks winningly of working in bed, a "horizontal author", and of his
maddening obsession with "the placing of a comma, the weight of a

Jonathan Raban
The Guardian


[Thanks Chris!]

Image: samzsnaps @ Moleskinerie/FLICKR
© All rights reserved