Thursday, February 21, 2008

Writers on Writing 05

How did some writers learn to write? "...I began to be fascinated by the problems each play brought with it; the mechanism and construction of a play began to hold far more interest for me than the actual staging of it, and all through the winter I read every published play I could get my hands on; when my neighborhood library in the Bronx ran out of published plays, I went down to the main branch at 42nd Street and sat in the reading room all day long, completely and utterly absorbed.... I could not tear myself away from my obsession with the mechanics of play-writing." Moss Hart, Act One.

What is one method for evaluating objectively your writing? "I finished the play in mid-February on a note of triumph and with exultant admiration for my own rare gifts as a playwright; but I made myself keep, not without some difficulty, my promise to put the manuscript away for a week and not look at it. On a bright February morning, a week after I had written The Curtain Slowly Falls... I opened the closely written pages; the plays' awfulness did not dawn on me slowly--the full impact of its hackneyed dreariness hit me by the sixth page." Moss Hart, Act One.

How do writers write? "I have had the good fortune to work almost anywhere.... I have written in subways, on shipboard with the people chattering away in deck chairs on either side of me, in theater lounges with actors rehearsing on the stage above, in kitchens, in automobiles, and on beaches or beside swimming pools with children cavorting about in the water---a lucky or accidental gift of concentration...." Moss Hart, Act One.

How do writers overcome writer's block? Mark Twain: "It was by accident that I found out that a book is pretty sure to get tired along about the middle and refuse to go on with its work until its powers and its interest should have been refreshed by a rest and its depleted stock of raw materials reinforced by lapse of time." Twain, Autobiography.

How do writers overcome writer's block? Mark Twain: "When the manuscript [of Tom Sawyer] had lain in a pigeonhole two years I took it out one day and read the last chapter that I had written; it was then that I made the great discovery that when the tank runs dry, you've only to leave it alone and it will fill up again in time, while you are asleep--also while you are at work at other things and are quite unaware that this unconscious and profitable cerebration is going on; there was plenty of material now and the book went on and finished itself without any trouble." Twain, Autobiography.

How do some writers write? "His [Wallace Stevens'] solitary walking had a purpose: he composed as he walked." Gill, Here at the New Yorker.

What are some of the ironies of writing? "If one is able at last to finish a story, it is never the story that one began." Gill, Here at the New Yorker.

How do some writers write? "[John O'Hara] would then proceed to rattle off at top speed a story that would need not a single correction. The fact was that he had worked the story out in his head, over no telling how many hours or days; and what he was setting down with such fiendish ease was simply a fair copy." Gill, Here at the New Yorker.

How do some writers write? "Sally Benson...would lie in bed in the dark, putting her stories together sentence by sentence and memorizing them as an actor might memorize...a considerable part. The act of finally setting a story down on paper amounted to a delicious reward, which, like a child with a sweet, she would delay indulging herself for as along as possible." Gill, Here at the New Yorker.

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