Updated: Feb 15, 2021
The contributors to this guest post on writing are not really guests. Truth is, they're not really my friends – oh, let's come right out with it, some of these people are dead, and I have never actually met any of them. But they have some interesting things to say about their work as writers. Their sayings, collected shamelessly from the internet, express something about the wonderful, lonely, frustrating, exhilarating process of writing.
Perhaps the most famous writer's quote on writing is by Ernest Hemingway:
"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."
This is typical Hemingway dramatics, but it is not without truth. When the words are flowing, they are the writer's dreams, imaginations, feelings and fantasies, ideas, ideals, fears and hopes, spilling onto the page, and when they flow, they flow like liquid. Hemingway describing this flow as blood suggests that the process is painful, perhaps even a loss in some way, a price that the writer pays for letting the words flow. Or perhaps he means that the words are the writer's metaphorical lifeblood, his or her very essence.
The words do not always flow, of course. Harlan Ellison reminds us that writing is real work:
"People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it."
Clearly it is a balance of these two, the flowing and the hard work. As J.K. Rowling tells us,
"I write nearly every day. Some days I write for ten or eleven hours. Other days I might only write for three hours. It really depends on how fast the ideas are coming."
For successful writers, writing is a job to which they can devote themselves full time. For others (like me) writing is done in stolen hours, between the hours of paying work and household duties. It is difficult and rewarding; something that feels like it must be done. No one has to write. Writing is always a kind of drive and a labor of love.
If we go back about 2500 years we find that Plato said, in the context of speech-writing, that once ideas have been written down and sent out into the world, they become disconnected from their parent (the writer), and are orphans in the world, open to different interpretations, with no parent to protect or defend them. This provocative idea surely applies to fiction as well, and perhaps especially to poetry. After all, as Wallace Stevens said, "The poet is the priest of the invisible." The invisible, made visible through a poem, is nevertheless not made tangible or exact; the poem provides a gateway to interpretation.
In the process of writing my own three novels the most surprising thing has been how the characters become real, as real as anyone I have ever known. In some ways I know them better than real people, because I know their thoughts and their inner worlds. I love these people, and I miss them deeply now that the trilogy is finished. I do not see them as orphans, rather as children who grew up and went out into the world to find their way. I wonder how their lives will turn out, and I wish them well.
Till next time, then. Thanks for visiting the blog.