"It's no good having one without the other"

In September of 1968, in what he jokingly termed “E. Gorey’s Great Simple Theory About Art,” Gorey wrote these Yodaesque words:

“This is the theory ... that anything that is art ... is presumably about some certain thing, but is really always about something else, and it’s no good having one without the other, because if you just have the something it is boring and if you just have the something else it’s irritating.”

When I teach literature I always tell them, these would-be writers (we don’t do workshops, we just read great books), I say, “When you read Pride and Prejudice, don’t if you’re a girl identify with Elizabeth Bennet, if you’re a boy with Darcy. Identify with the author, not with the characters.” All good readers do that automatically, but I think it’s helpful to make that clear. Your affinity is not with the characters, always with the writer.

You should always be asking yourself, if you want to become an expert reader or perhaps a writer, you should always say, “How is this being achieved?” “How is this scene being managed?” “How is this being brought off?” Because the characters are artifacts. They’re not real people with real destinies and I know that feeling, when you’re reading Pride and Prejudice even for the fourth time, you feel definite anxiety about whether they’re going to get married, even though you know perfectly well that they do. There’s a slight sort of, “Come on, kiss her!”

MARTIN AMIS

You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.

MARGARET ATWOOD

richardsala:

From the RIP card set of strange phenomena ~ (1) Rain of fish (2) Psychic detective (3) Spontaneous combustion (4) Real life vampire (5) Fire ghost (6) Ghost hunter

Something Should Remain Unsaid

Narrative art must be clear, but it must also be mysterious. Something should remain unsaid, something just beyond our understanding, a secret. If it’s only clear, it’s kitsch; if it’s only mysterious (a much easier path), it’s condescending and pretentious and soon monotonous.

STEPHEN SONDHEIM


Something Should Remain Unsaid

Red carpets, interviews and social networking are all alien to him. When a friend told him that he was trending on Twitter following his debut as Moriarty, he made a rare foray online. “So terrifying,” he says burying his head in his hands. “I would never go on it again. Oh God, it just made me want to go to sleep for three weeks. People said lovely things but then people also said the most vicious, horrible things. It’s an outlet for the angry. It’s like going into a room and being punched, then kissed, then hugged, then kicked, then complimented and then slated.”

If you use willpower only to deny yourself pleasures, it becomes a grim, thankless form of defense. But when you use it to gain something, you can wring pleasure out of the dreariest tasks. Young people who seem hopelessly undisciplined in school or on the job will concentrate for hour after hour on video games because there’s a steady series of prizes. That’s the feeling to aim for in the real world.

In order to move up the scale of emotions and become more
attractive to the things you want in life, all you need to do is
let go of your story - the idea that having what you want will
in any way change your life for the better or for the worse.

When you recognize that you don’t need what you want, you’re
free to have it - and freedom is perhaps the ultimate goal…

The second secret, what they never tell you, is that yes, anyone can become a writer. Merely consider any novel by Judith Krantz and you’ll know it’s true. The trick is not to become a writer, it is to stay a writer. Day after day, year after year, book after book. And for that, you must keep working, even when it seems beyond you. In the words-to-live-by of Thomas Carlyle, “Produce! Produce! Were it but the pitifullest infinitesimal fraction of a Product, produce it in God’s name! ‘Tis the utmost thou has in thee: out with it, then. Up, up! Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy whole might. Work while it is called Today; for the Night cometh, wherein no man can work.”

“Everyone thinks that Beethoven had his string quartets completely in his head—they somehow formed in his head—and all he had to do was write them down, and they would kind of be manifest to the world. But what I think is so interesting, and what would really be a lesson that everybody should learn, is that things come out of nothing. Things evolve out of nothing. You know, that the tiniest seed in the right situation turns into the most beautiful forest. And then the most promising seed in the wrong situation turns into nothing. And I think this would be important for people to understand, because it gives people confidence in their own lives that that’s how things work.

If you walk around with the idea that there are some people who are so gifted—they have these wonderful things in their head but you’re not one of them, you’re just sort of a normal person, you could never do anything like that—then you live a different kind of life. You could have another kind of life, where you say, well, I know that things come from nothing very much, and start from unpromising beginnings. And I’m an unpromising beginning, and I could start something.”

Brian Eno
quoted in Brian Eno’s Another Green World by Geeta Dayal (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2009), 31.

Be Daring

Be daring, take on anything. Don’t labor over little cameo works in which every word is to be perfect. Technique holds a reader from sentence to sentence, but only content will stay in his mind.

JOYCE CAROL OATES


Be Daring

Shirley is a frequent political commentator of the conservative Republican stripe (a biographer of both Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich), but he’ll be puzzling to many ordinary human beings in that regard, since unlike virtually all publicly visible Republicans these days, he isn’t stupid, he isn’t vicious, and he isn’t patently, observably insane. Certainly in terms of his historical writing, at least, he’s the very last thing most Republicans currently are: responsible.

After suggesting [that young writers] look into The Writer’s Chapbook I recommend they keep a diary, at least a page a day, and faithfully, and also to get into the habit of letter writing to other writers. The advantages that come with doing this seem obvious—both are exercises which hone the communicative skills.

GEORGE PLIMPTON