Sunday, September 24, 2017

What Writers Say, Part 25: William Faulkner on What Makes a Good Novelist

In the Spring 1956 Paris Review interview, this is how William Faulkner answered the question, "Is there any possible formula to follow in order to be a good novelist?"
Ninety-nine percent talent ... ninety-nine percent discipline ... ninety-nine percent work. He must never be satisfied with what he does. It never is as good as it can be done. Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself. An artist is a creature driven by demons. He don’t know why they choose him and he’s usually too busy to wonder why. He is completely amoral in that he will rob, borrow, beg, or steal from anybody and everybody to get the work done.
I read that provocative interviewperhaps my favorite in the 65-year tradition of the Paris Review's inspirational and instructive "Writers at Work" seriessome forty-five years ago when I was a college student and have paraphrased this quote countless times in social conversations and classroom lectures. I appreciate the candidness of Faulkner's observation, especially since I hear so many aspiring writers make excuses for not writing: no time, inadequate location, or insufficient support. Indeed, Faulkner is implying that the only way to write is to write.