“It is not the object described that matters, but the light that falls on it, like that from a lamp in a distant room.”
Jerome Brooks: [I]s writing easy for you? Or do you find it difficult?
Chinua Achebe: The honest answer is, it’s difficult. But the word difficult doesn’t really express what I mean. It is like wrestling; you are wrestling with ideas and with the story. There is a lot of energy required. At the same time, it is exciting. So it is both difficult and easy. What you must accept is that your life is not going to be the same while you are writing. I have said in the kind of exaggerated manner of writers and prophets that writing, for me, is like receiving a term of imprisonment—you know that’s what you’re in for, for whatever time it takes. So it is both pleasurable and difficult.
“The language of science was unsatisfying to me. ‘The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it’s comprehensible,’ Einstein said. But I don’t think human relationships are ever fully comprehensible. They can clarify for small, beautiful moments, but then they change. Unlike a scientific experiment with rigorous, controlled parameters, our lives are boundless and shifting. And there’s never an end to the story. We need more than science—we need storytelling to capture that kind of complexity, that kind of incomprehensibility.”
— Jennifer Percy, in ‘Life Keeps Changing’: Why Stories, Not Science, Explain the World by Joe Fassler
“I don’t think writers are supposed to give answers or explain characters fully. We are supposed to describe and expose problems. You don’t have to name the character’s problem, just describe its effects. That makes the wounds more resonant, more suggestive, so people can relate to them.”
“[Literature] does educate us about life. I wouldn’t be the person I am, I wouldn’t understand what I understand, were it not for certain books. I’m thinking of the great question of nineteenth-century Russian literature: how should one live? A novel worth reading is an education of the heart. It enlarges your sense of human possibility, of what human nature is, of what happens in the world. It’s a creator of inwardness.”
“Successful writers are not the ones who write the best sentences. They are the ones who keep writing. They are the ones who discover what is most important and strangest and most pleasurable in themselves, and keep believing in the value of their work, despite the difficulties.”
— Bonnie Friedman (via poetsandwriters)
“The mistakes I tend to make in my first draft are too many adjectives. When I type it up and look at it, I try to take out half the adjectives and a third of the self-pity.”
From “Place” by Dorothy Allison in The Writer’s Notebook: Craft Essays from Tin House. Tin House Books: 2009.
“[M]an is in his actions and practice, as well as in his fictions, essentially a story-telling animal. He is not essentially, but becomes through his history, a teller of stories that aspire to truth. But the key question for men is not about their own authorship; I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’ We enter human society, that is with one or more imputed characters—roles into which we have been drafted—and we have to learn what they are in order to be able to understand how others respond to us and how our responses to them are apt to be construed. It is through hearing stories about wicked stepmothers, lost children, good but misguided kings, wolves that suckle twin boys, youngest sons who receive no inheritance but must make their own way in the world and eldest sons who waste their inheritance on riotous living and go into exile to live with the swine, that children learn or mislearn both what a child and what a parent is, what the cast of characters may be in the drama into which they have been born and what the ways of the world are. Deprive children of stories and you leave them unscripted, anxious stutterers in their actions as in their words. Hence there is no way to give us an understanding of any society, including our own, except through the stock of stories which constitute its initial dramatic resources. Mythology, in its original sense, is at the heart of things. Vico was right and so was Joyce. And so too of course is that moral tradition from heroic society to its medieval heirs according to which the telling of stories has a key part in educating us into the virtues.”
— Alasdair MacIntyre, “The Virtues, the Unity of a Human Life and the Concept of a Tradition,” After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory
“We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel—or have done and thought and felt; or might do and think and feel—is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become. A person who had never known another human being could not be introspective any more than a terrier can, or a horse; he might (improbably) keep himself alive, but he could not know anything about himself, no matter how long he lived with himself. And a person who had never listened to nor read a tale or myth or parable or story, would remain ignorant of his own emotional and spiritual heights and depths, would not know quite fully what it is to be human. For the story—from Rumpelstiltskin to War and Peace—is one of the basic tools invented by the mind of man, for the purpose of gaining understanding. There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.”
— Ursula K. Le Guin, “Prophets and Mirrors: Science Fiction as a Way of Seeing,” The Living Light 7:3 (Fall 1970) (via hours)
“When the children were small, they came and sat on my lap and punched the keys as I did, but they soon lost interest. My younger daughter told me recently that when she was a child she thought the typewriter was a toy that I went into my room and closed the door and played with.”
“[A]s anyone with the least knowledge of literature and writing—maybe art in general—will know, concealing what is shameful to you will never lead to anything of value. This is something I discovered later, when I was writing my first novel, when the parts that I was ashamed like a dog to have written were the same parts that my editor always pointed out, saying, This, this is really good! In a way, it was my shame-o-meter, the belief that the feeling of shame or guilt signified relevance, that finally made me write about myself.”
— Karl Ove Knausgaard, Completely Without Dignity: An Interview with Karl Ove Knausgaard (interview by Jesse Barron) (via theparisreview)
“All the best essays are epistemological journeys from ignorance or curiosity to knowledge.”
“A human is not really capable of creating really good works until he reaches eighty.” —Akira Kurosawa to Ingmar Bergman.
“I had a teacher I liked who used to say good fiction’s job was to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. I guess a big part of serious fiction’s purpose is to give the reader, who like all of us is sort of marooned in her own skull, to give her imaginative access to other selves. Since an ineluctable part of being a human self is suffering, part of what we humans come to art for is an experience of suffering, necessarily a vicarious experience, more like a sort of ‘generalization’ of suffering. Does this make sense? We all suffer alone in the real world; true empathy’s impossible. But if a piece of fiction can allow us imaginatively to identify with a character’s pain, we might then also more easily conceive of others identifying with our own. This is nourishing, redemptive; we become less alone inside.”
— David Foster Wallace, A Conversation with David Foster Wallace By Larry McCaffery (interview by Larry McCaffery) (via prayingbuddha)