“Exhaust your own curiosity about your project before showing it to someone else. Let your own ideas play out without getting input from others, then, after you show them your work, use their responses as input to push you forward. It may take you several drafts and a long time to come to the end of your ability to tackle a given subject, and when you do, you might be satisfied or dissatisfied with your product. If you are dissatisfied, the input of others will give you ideas for how to shape your novel further. If you are satisfied, the input of others will let you know if your novel is readable and accessible.”
—Jane Smiley, 5 Writing Tips, at Publisher’s Weekly.
"I do think there’s some relationship between maintaining focus, looking closely, and the act of writing itself. The more you practice really looking, the more convincingly you can build a set for a scene. You become used to looking at the relationships between objects and people and light and time and mood and air. That’s what you’re doing when you’re having a James Wright’s hammock moment, and it’s also what you need to do to bring a scene into being. I think all writers do this. I don’t think I’m remarkably gifted at it or anything, but if there is an overlap between the skill of perception and the skill of populating a scene with objects and people, then this would be the connection."
"It is a good thing to live a rich life full of experiences, it is a good thing to have boundless curiosity about what drives people, it is a good thing to be disciplined, it is a good thing to see the world from interesting angles rather than straightforwardly and predictably, but after all of that — and all of that is important — you are alone in your room, changing and changing and restoring and reversing and starting sentences all over again, trying to decide “How do I capture this thought, feeling, scene, action on the page so that it pierces the reader’s awareness?" If you find that latter process - at the level of word choice, the phrase, the sentence — fascinating, addictive even, then you’ll get where you want to be as a writer, eventually. I know that sounds dramatic, but it is what I believe."
—Dinty Moore, “The Unslanted Truth,” via @thereviewreview
"Clock time is merely a method of measurement held in common by all civilized societies, and has the same kind of reality (or unreality) as the imaginary lines of latitude and longitude. The equator is useless for stringing a rolled roast. To judge by the clock, the present moment is nothing but a hairline which, ideally, should have no width at all — except that it would then be invisible. If you are bewitched by the clock you will therefore have no present. “Now” will be no more than the geometrical point at which the future becomes the past. But if you sense and feel the world materially, you will discover that there never is, or was, or will be anything except the present."
—Alan Watts, from Does It Matter: Essays on Man’s Relation to Materiality, via @brainpicker
“John Gardner says in addition to the fault of insufficient details and excessive use of abstraction there is a third failure: ‘…the needless filtering of the image through some observing consciousness. The amateur writes: Turning she noticed two snakes fighting in among the rocks. Compare: She turned. In among the rocks, two snakes were fighting. Generally speaking–though no laws are absolute in fiction—vividness urges that almost every occurrence of such phrases as “she noticed” and “she saw” be suppressed in favor of direct presentation of the thing seen.’
—Janet Burroway, via @BTMargins
“Workshop is productive in insisting that you look at your flaws and hold your work to a high standard,” Thomas said in an email interview, “but I think it serves its purpose and then you have to move on.”
Time spent alone writing the novel provided a different kind of instruction. “I learned not to look away at the moment when I should be paying the most attention,” he said. “The closer I got to the heart of a scene, to the really difficult material to write, the emotionally challenging stuff or the exchange in which the conflict is made most explicit, the more I’d look for a way out of writing it. This was out of fear, obviously, because you don’t want to run up against your limitations in craft, intelligence or heart. It’s much easier to duck the really vital material, but it kills what you’re writing to do so, kills it instantly.”
Thomas said all his time in classrooms taught him that people “enjoy rising to the high expectations placed on them” by genuinely caring teachers. “A conversation that dwells only in what hasn’t been accomplished and doesn’t try to see what is fighting toward the surface for breath is an impoverished conversation indeed.”
"I think it’s impossible to write a book on the basis simply of willpower and the desire to produce a book. There has to be some kind of deal made with the passive side of the process—the imagination, the unconscious, the muse, the inspiration. And so when I say ‘contract,’ I mean that in order for it to be rich and surprising to the author…there has to be a contract: ‘Give me this material which I haven’t got access to just through my will and intelligence and I will give you anything you ask.’ And the original contract was: ‘Your life.’"
—from an interview at KCRW’s Bookworm series.
"There’s nothing like writing a satire on literary prizes to provoke a cascade of short-listing. It’s the highest hit rate I’ve had since I began my career as a writer."
—Edward St. Aubyn on his novel “Lost for Words,” on KCRW.
"Strange to him were the large, organized intramural activities of the American schools as contrasted with the more personal and intimate amusements of the English student. ‘But there are many changes there now. The communal meals at college make an immense difference. Food and warmth enter into everything. No fires, you know. The great change is that the students do no entertaining. Of course, formerly they were entertaining all the time. Yes… tea parties, at which no wine was served,’he added."
—E.M. Forster on American colleges, from “Sitting With E.M. Forster While He Had His Portrait Sketched," in The New Republic, 1947.