Sunday, June 25, 2017

What Writers Say, Part 12: Ernest Hemingway on His Diverse Influences

In response to a question about his literary forebears, Ernest Hemingway recited a litany of writers, including Twain, Chekhov, Dostoevsky, and Shakespeare, but he also mentioned composers (Bach and Mozart) and painters (Tintoretto, Breughel, Goya, van Gogh, Cezanne, and others).

Hemingway's eclectic selection suggests, as WORDS ON THE LINE has often stated, that writers can find inspiration not only from their favorite authors but also from painters, sculptors, photographers, composers, musicians, choreographers, dancers, and actors. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

What Writers Say, Part 11: Ernest Hemingway on the Work Destroyers

It's often said that artists are selfish. The nature of their work demands that they spend long stretches of time isolated from others. When Ernest Hemingway was asked which places are most advantageous to his writing, he responded that he could work in most any quiet place and concluded, "The telephone and visitors are the work destroyers." When asked about the optimal emotional time to write, he curtly answered, "You can write any time people will leave you alone and not interrupt you."

Sounds selfish, right?

But truth be told, the writers I have met are not much different from everyone else I know. Some are generous and some greedy, graceful and some crude, some mature and some puerile, some sensitive and some cold, some grounded and some neurotic, some energetic and some lethargic, some ambitious and some lazy, some sensible and some superficial, some happy and some depressed, some talkative and some quiet. This observation tells me that what distinguishes writing from other professions is that it is performed in places of intimacy, where non-writers might consider writers antisocial or selfish because writers perform their work where and when others are at their leisure.

Lesson learned? When writing, keep people and telephones out. If Hemingway were alive today, he would add smartphones to his list. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

What Writers Say, Part 10: Harold Pinter on How Writing Feels

Harold Pinter did not much like talking about his creative works, and especially his writing process, not because he was secretive but because he saw such disclosures as little more than time-wasting, deceptive chatter. Moreover, he said he could not recall precisely how his plays develop from conception to completion. The closest he seemed willing to express about his writing process was his feeling throughout it: "I think what happens is that I write in a very high state of excitement and frustration."

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's classic books Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience and Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention examine in depth what happens during the creative process. Hours can pass like seconds to an artist in the midst of creating. But what I appreciate about Pinter's observation is its pragmatism. When we are excited and frustrated, we tend to work through those feelings until they fade, making writing an activity in which our intellect and emotions collaborate.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

What Writers Say, Part 9: Edward Albee on Writing as Discovery

When Edward Albee said, "Writing has got to be an act of discovery," he did not mean that writers should approach their story clueless as to what comes next. Indeed, they might begin writing a book knowing what every chapter might look like. Nevertheless, the act of writing is an act of discovery, a means of exploring one's creativity, introducing unique characters, disclosing singular situations, and inventing new phrases.

Understanding this point can liberate writers. They begin to realize that they are engaged in much more than self-expression. They are trying to find what they've envisioned, to learn what comes next, to get to the bottom of things. Some writers compare this journey to detective work and some to the construction craft. Others prefer to call it simply what they do as artists. If the work isn't exhilarating, it's not writing.