May 14, 2013

On the Pain of Writing Ctd



Writing in English is hard. I've talked about this a few times before, most recently here where I explored the famous James Joyce quote on the challenge of writing in English:
"Writing in English is the most ingenius torture ever devised for sins committed in previous lives."
The Joyce epigram came as massive comfort to me. I was someone who for a very long time had thought I was unique in finding it difficult to get words on paper.
Ever since coming across the Joyce quote I've tried to compile a list of similar observations. The latest comes from Dan Brown. The globally renowned author of the Da Vinci Code and other works.

In a recent interview with the Sunday Times Magazine of May 12 2013 explained his habits and writing routine. He echoed Joyce and made it clear that good writing doesn't always flow freely; but takes time and hard work.

He uses a good analogy that I really liked. Here's what he said:
“I sleep between five-and-a-half and six hours... No matter when I got to bed I’ll wake up five-and-a-half to six hours later. I don’t have an alarm. And I have very busy days. I do a lot of exercise, I do a lot of work and I feel good. It’s what my body needs.”
He was then asked: “But don’t you hate writing?”
“It’s awful. It’s a brutal existence. I enjoy having written, past tense. I must enjoy it on some level but I find it very difficult. I feel like it’s working out for an hour. You feel good at the end, but while you’re doing it, you wish you were doing something else.”
The interviewer rightly added, "Writing is indeed a sadomasochistic pursuit."

Moving on.

Coincidentally on the following Tuesday 14 May, Radio Four's Today Programme explored writers block.

Two writers were featured, each on opposing camps. One said writer's block is clap trap. The other a staunch defender of the condition.

The anti-writer's block advocate (a woman) said that paid writers occupy an incredibly privileged position in society and should have regard for that.

She then added that any writer complaining of writers block should have more children; because she had to learn to write in two hour windows between ferrying around her young children. Her message boiled down to 'just do it'. She wielded an interesting quote:
"The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of ones trousers to the seat of one's chair."
The pro-writer's block advocate stood in firm defence of the writer's condition.
He also used an interesting quote. Citing famous writer Joseph Conrad who had scolded someone for saying writer's block was nonsence, he said:
"It's outrageous. Does he think I'm the sort of man who wouldn't finish the story in a week if he could? Do you? Why? For what reason? Is it my habit to lie around drunk for days instead of working? I think he knows well enough I don't."

(Out of interest, Joseph Conrad wrote a piece entitled 'Advice on Writing a Novel' which you can access here)

This second quote reminded me of George Orwell's famous satirical essay, 'Confessions of a Book Reviewer'.

"Needless to say this person is a writer. He might be a poet, a novelist, or a writer of film scripts or radio features, for all literary people are very much alike, but let us say that he is a book reviewer. Half hidden among the pile of papers is a bulky parcel containing five volumes which his editor has sent with a note suggesting that they "ought to go well together". They arrived four days ago, but for 48 hours the reviewer was prevented by moral paralysis from opening the parcel. Yesterday in a resolute moment he ripped the string off it and found the five volumes to be PALESTINE AT THE CROSS ROADS, SCIENTIFIC DAIRY FARMING, A SHORT HISTORY OF EUROPEAN DEMOCRACY (this one is 680 pages and weighs four pounds), TRIBAL CUSTOMS IN PORTUGUESE EAST AFRICA, and a novel, IT'S NICER LYING DOWN, probably included by mistake. His review--800 words, say--has got to be "in" by midday tomorrow."
I'm going off in a tangent but the problem is an associated one. What Orwell has managed to do in Confessions of a Book Reviewer is to capture beautifully the writer's perennial predicament: that being procrastination.

Something that I am often bound by. But again comforted in the knowledge that even Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Akerlof can be stumped by the problem. As the New Yorker magazine recounted.


Before tying things up I thought I would leave you with two other articles I've been referring to.

One is by Slate Magazine on the Daily Rituals of famous writers. Fascinating and you can read it here.

The other is by blog Brain Pickings which has done a similar post, this time on 'The Collective Wisdom of Great Writers'. You can read it here.

One very last one - a bonus link - is on writing poems versus copywriting. Read it here.
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