“All I ask is that you do as well as you can, and remember that, while to write adverbs is human, to write he said or she said is divine.”
― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
"The blue-backed notebooks, the two pencils and the pencil sharpener (a pocket knife was too wasteful), the marble topped tables, the smell of early morning, sweeping out and mopping, and luck were all you needed. For luck, you carried a horse chestnut and a rabbit’s foot in your right pocket."
4. Fill your senses. ("The five senses are the ministers of the soul"- Leonardo da Vinci)
"I was learning something from the painting of Cézanne that made writing simple true sentences far from enough to make the stories have the dimensions that I was trying to put in them. I was learning very much from him but I was not articulate enough to explain it to anyone. Besides it was a secret."
(Hemingway wanted the structure of "Big Two-Hearted River" to resemble a Cézanne—with a detailed foreground set against a vaguely described background. In a letter to Stein from August 1924, he wrote, "I have finished two long stories ... and finished the long one I worked on before I went to Spain where I am doing the country like Cézanne and having a hell of a time and sometimes getting it a little bit. It is about 100 pages long and nothing happens and the country is swell. I made it all up") - Wikipedia, Big Two-Hearted River
“There is no literature and art without paranoia. Probably there would be even civilization. Paranoia is the world. It is the attempt to make sense of what has not.”
― Thomas Pynchon
"It was necessary to get exercise, to be tired in the body, and it was very good to make love with whom you loved. That was better than anything. But afterwards, when you were empty, it was necessary to read in order not to think or worry about your work until you could do it again."
7. Read in the evenings.
"When I was writing, it was necessary for me to read after I had written. If you kept thinking about it, you would lose the thing that you were writing before you could go on with it the next day."
"You should only read what is truly good or what is frankly bad."
- Gertrude Stein to Ernest Hemingway
“The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself. I suppose that it begins or does not begin in the cradle. Although I have felt compelled to write things down since I was five years old, I doubt that my daughter ever will, for she is a singularly blessed and accepting child, delighted with life exactly as life presents itself to her, unafraid to go to sleep and unafraid to wake up. Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.”
― Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem
“The first thing that distinguishes a writer is that he is most alive when alone.”
― Martin Amis
“Between the wolf in the tall grass and the wolf in the tall story there is a shimmering go-between. That go-between, that prism, is the art of literature.... To call a story a true story is an insult to both art and truth. Every great writer is a great deceiver, but so is that arch-cheat Nature. Nature always deceives. From the simple deception of propagation to the prodigiously sophisticated illusion of protective colors in butterflies or birds, there is in Nature a marvelous system of spells and wiles. The writer of fiction only follows Nature’s lead.”
- Vladimir Nabokov
12. The strength of an ommission:
"It was a very simple story called “Out of Season” and I had omitted the real end of it which was that the old man hanged himself. This was omitted on my new theory that you could omit anything if you knew that you omitted and the omitted part would strengthen the story and make people feel something more than they understood."
13. Don't ever hold back your good stuff:
[F. Scott Fitzgerald] had told me at the Closerie des Lilas how he wrote what he thought were good stories, and which really were good stories for the Post, and then changed them for submission, knowing exactly how he must make the twists that made them into salable magazine stories. I had been shocked at this and I said I thought it was whoring…. I said that I did not believe anyone could write any way except the very best he could write without destroying his talent.
"It seems to me that a good formula to test the quality of a novel is, in the long run, a merging of the precision of poetry and the intuition of science. In order to bask in that magic a wise reader reads the book of genius not with his heart, not so much with his brain, but with his spine. It is there that occurs the telltale tingle even though we must keep a little aloof, a little detached when reading. Then with a pleasure which is both sensual and intellectual we shall watch the artist build his castle of cards and watch the castle of cards become a castle of beautiful steel and glass."
16. “Ink, a Drug.”
― Vladimir Nabokov, Bend Sinister
Ah, Nabokov.... one of my favorites, but you know, I haven't read him in years. I remember reading and re-reading a book of his collected short stories the summer I first moved out. My little studio apartment, with the sunshine and its furry orange carpet! My mutt-dog, leaping in and out through the broken screen door! I was 17...
And then all that first year of college, following him down...
But I don't think any thrill Nabokov gave me ever quite matched the year I first read Lolita.
I was in eighth grade, and I loved my English teacher in a way I hadn't loved a teacher in years. She was smart and subversive and I was silent in her class, sitting in the back with big eyes. Usually I got in trouble for passing notes, for flirting, but never in hers. I wanted to memorize what she had to say.
But here's the deal. At that school, a lot of the teachers were preoccupied with the popular kids, and by that I mean, they'd invite those kids over in the evenings for 'hot tub nights", they'd pull those kids aside in the hallways to give them advice about who they were dating, who wasn't quite in their league, etc. Which blows my mind now, that everyone knew about it then, and yet somehow...
...although a couple years later, there was a big scandal about a sweet girl who rode my bus and a teacher who took things too far with her. But I think they ended up together, at least for a little while.
Anyway, I was an outsider. Not on the 'list.' I was already a skipping-school kind of girl, with my long hair knotted up into two messy buns, and a backpack stuffed full of books to read in the bushes.
But for Mrs. R, I killed myself on every assignment- and all she ever wrote on my papers would be an indifferent A+.
I was too weird, I guess- in class she preferred the cheerleaders and jocks. (I'm pretty sure this is around the time I really checked out of public education- two years later, I'd drop out and self-school.)
Anyway, one day Mrs. R was babbling about wonderful books, and she mentioned Lolita, which I'd never heard of.
"But you're all much too young for that one," she said, trying to take it back- but the title had seared into my brain.
That night I was at the public library- oh, our public library!! Cross-legged in the aisles because I was too absorbed to even make it to a reading table!
and I devoured Lolita: yes, I read it with my spine.
Electric with something unnameable, desperate to talk to someone else who had read it, I went up to her desk after class. She was grading papers.
"Remember you were talking about that book, Lolita? It's incredible. I've never read anyone that writes so-"
"You're too young to read books like that," she said.
Well. Fuck you, lady-
Y'all can finish that thought :)
And on that note... this interesting article: The Outside Game.
"Among sociologists, he’s most famous for having made sociology’s previous theories of “deviance” look deviant: studying obscure or out groups, he has shown that the way their members act together follows the same kinds of rules that everyone else follows. Some people may march to a different drummer—but, when they do, they’re usually all marching in rhythm, too"
- Adam Gopnik, "The Outside Game," New Yorker, January 2015.
Now, I imagine you can call up a few qualities that typify the drumbeats certain subsetss march to: engineers, salesmen and CEOs, for example.
You know what typifies writers?
We're a whimsical, grudge-y, neurotic, rabidly competitive, solipsistic, charming and tyrannical bunch. We're hard to live with when we're not writing; we're hard to live with when we're writing. Also, we remember isolated incidents from our pasts and call them up with great detail, we ramble on and on about them for pages. In short, we're high-maintenance, difficult little fucks.
And you're sweet for sticking with me. Maybe you're a difficult little fuck as well, yeah? I'm sure we'd get along, competitive or no.
On that note, maybe all along Mrs. R. knew what she was doing.
Angst, confusion, a hurt-butthole and an answering rage are vital ingredients in a nestling. Otherwise why would you fly away?
And so- I find myself wondering about all these bouncy, frosted-cupcake facades so many writers bake up for their readers these days.
When readers, we know, are as equally fucked up as we are, as everyone is? Sometimes it seems like everybody's a fake chickenshit, you know. I know I've got some chirpy posts on here- when I'm bubbling over with caffeine and sunshine, yes, but I'm honest about the bad depths as well.
Edna O'Brien recalls when writers were drunk, brawling, and fabulous... Is the bohemian dead?
P.Z. West's first novel, EVENING’S LAND, is a Library Journal Self-e Selection, winner of the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation Award and recipient of the Carol Marie Smith Memorial Scholarship for the NOEPE Center of Literary Arts.
Pauline West's books on Goodreads
Candlemoth: A Holy City Romance
ratings: 27 (avg rating 4.04)
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Candlemoth Volume 2: How To Spend It
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Candlemoth Book 3: A Twist of Fate
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Stalker: A Gothic Thriller
ratings: 4 (avg rating 4.25)