“Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.”
― Winston S. Churchill
We fret about words, we writers. Words mean. Words point. They are arrows. Arrows stuck in the rough hide of reality. And the more portentous, more general the word, the more they can also resemble rooms or tunnels. They can expand, or cave in. They can come to be filled with a bad smell. They will often remind us of other rooms, where we’d rather dwell or where we think we are already living. They can be spaces we lose the art or the wisdom of inhabiting. And eventually those volumes of mental intention we no longer know how to inhabit will be abandoned, boarded up, closed down.
*artwork by Mrzyk & Moriceau.
A writer may have a message, an emotion, a philosophy to impart in his fiction, and these are the most marvelous kind of serendipity. But his first job is to entertain. To inform comes second. To entertain comes first.
From my childhood, I remember talking to people, and the stories they told me were more interesting than what’s in books. People tell me extraordinary things, and I realize that there is nothing in the world about which we know anything for sure. Each person screams out his or her truth. You have to listen to everyone. As an artist, you have to listen to both the executioner and the victim.
It’s not that you get a cliché and then wiggle it about or use synonyms. You don’t take an ordinary decorative paragraph and give it style. What you’re trying to do is be faithful to your perceptions and transmit them as faithfully as you can. I say these sentences until they sound right. There’s no objective reason why they’re right. They just sound right to me.
I’ll give you the sole secret of short-story writing, and here it is:
Rule 1. Write stories that please yourself. There is no rule 2.
The technical points you can get from Bliss Perry. If you can’t write a story that pleases yourself, you will never please the public. But in writing the story forget the public.
Perhaps the most vital things for the writer to describe, Baldwin argues, are the habitual ways in which we imprison ourselves and relinquish our own freedom.