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Posts Tagged ‘William Faulkner

How To Think Like A Writer

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Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

Writing isn’t easy. In fact, it can be painfully difficult. Why? Because it’s thinking, but on paper. “To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard,” said Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author David McCullough.

Many great writers, including Joan Didion and Don DeLillo, have said that their purpose for putting words on paper is to find clarity with their thoughts, and have described the process of writing as one of becoming familiar with their own minds.

“I find that by putting things in writing I can understand them and see them a little more objectively,” Hunter S. Thompson wrote in a 1958 letter. “For words are merely tools and if you use the right ones you can actually put even your life in order.”

If you’re a writer, then you’re likely both devoted to your craft and eternally frustrated by it — and even the most talented writers could use guidance from the greats on how to hone their powers of thinking and get those creative juices flowing. Take a cue from the likes of Henry Miller, Zadie Smith and William Faulkner to get into your “writer’s mind” and produce your best work.

Here are some tips, tricks, quirks and habits of great writers that might inspire you to think like a writer — and to develop a writing practice that optimizes your creativity.

Study the greats.

Hunter S. Thompson was known to transcribe Ernest Hemingway’s novels in full, just to absorb the words — he typed out The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms in the hopes of absorbing as much wisdom as possible from his literary idol.

Observe everything.

Marina Keegan, a brilliant young writer, died tragically just five days after graduating magna cum laude from Yale University. Her final essay for The Yale Daily News, “The Opposite Of Loneliness,” went viral and attracted over 1 million views the week after it was published.

In her too-short career, Keegan mastered the art of observation — perhaps a writer’s greatest asset. Keegan wrote in her application to a first-person writing class at Yale:

About three years ago, I started a list. It began in a marbled notebook but has since evolved inside the walls of my word processor. Interesting stuff. That’s what I call it. I’ll admit it’s become a bit of an addiction. I add to it in class, in the library, before bed, and on trains. It has everything from descriptions of a waiter’s hand gestures, to my cab driver’s eyes, to strange things that happen to me or a way to phrase something. I have 32 single-spaced pages of interesting stuff in my life.

Daydream.

Daydreaming may get a bad rap — but it can help connect you to what you think and feel, the source of all good (and bad) writing. As Joan Didion once pondered, “Was it only by dreaming or writing that I could find out what I thought?”

Write from your own truth.

In an interview with The Paris Review, Gabriel García Márquez advised young writers, based on his own experience, to write what they know.

“If I had to give a young writer some advice I would say to write about something that has happened to him; it’s always easy to tell whether a writer is writing about something that has happened to him or something he has read or been told,” García Márquez said. “It always amuses me that the biggest praise for my work comes for the imagination, while the truth is that there’s not a single line in all my work that does not have a basis in reality. The problem is that Caribbean reality resembles the wildest imagination.”

Make writing your top priority.

Henry Miller wrote in his 10 commandments for writing that the serious writer must put his craft above all else.

“Write first and always,” advises Miller. “Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.”

Find your creative inspiration, wherever it may be.

Gertrude Stein once said of the writing process, “It will come if it is there and if you will let it come.”

But for the writing to come, you may have to nudge it along by finding a consistent source of inspiration. Stein says her best ideas came to her while she was driving around in her car looking at cows. She would write for only 30 minutes a day, driving around a farm and stopping at different cows until she found the one that most fit her mood.

Know what you’re getting yourself into.

Want to live the writer’s life? Great. But make sure you’re not just infatuated with an imagined ideal of your artsy existence. Margaret Atwood wrote in The Guardian:

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.

Find space for solitude.

Zadie Smith wrote in a list of rules for writers, “Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.”

Particularly, Smith noted, the place where you write must be one of solitude. “Protect the time and space in which you write,” Smith writes. “Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.”

Psychoanalyze yourself.

If you’re stumped for writing material or unsure of whether you have enough life experience to draw from, try taking a little walk down memory lane. As Flannery O’Connor put it, “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.”

Take it one day, or sentence, at a time.

When a writing assignment or grand idea is sitting in front of you waiting to be put into words, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the scope of the undertaking. But like any great work of fiction or non-fiction, there’s only one way for it to be done: One word, sentence, and paragraph at a time.

In her book of advice on writing and life, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott explains that writers have to learn to take their projects one baby step at a time. The Traveling Mercies author writes:

My older brother was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

And with your novel-in-progress or next big feature? Take it bird by bird.

Compete against only yourself.

William Faulkner described the artist as a “creature driven by demons,” perpetually dissatisfied with his own work. While this dissatisfaction is to a certain degree inevitable (and productive), it can be kept in check by refusing to compare your work to that of others.

“[The writer] must never be satisfied with what he does,” Faulker told The Paris Review in 1956. “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.”

Just do it.

Stephen King knows a thing or two about being a prolific writer. And it pretty much all boils down to this: “Read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”

And do it with joy.

As Joyce Carol Oates advised in rules number 1 and 10 on her list of rules for writers (disseminated via Twitter), “Write your heart out.”

Amen to that.

Carolyn Gregoire

Daily Rituals of Famous Authors

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Honore de Balzac

Balzac’s writing schedule was brutal: He ate a light dinner at 6:00 p.m., then went to bed. At 1:00 a.m. he rose and sat down at his writing table for a seven-hour stretch of work. At 8:00 a.m. he allowed himself a 90-minute nap; then, from 9:30 to 4:00, he resumed work, drinking cup after cup of black coffee. (According to one estimate, he drank as many as 50 cups a day.) At 4:00 p.m. Balzac took a walk, had a bath, and received visitors until 6:00, when the cycle started all over again.

William Faulkner

William Faulkner

Faulkner usually wrote best in the morning, although throughout his life he was able to adapt to various schedules as necessary. He wrote As I Lay Dying in the afternoons before clocking in on the night shift as a supervisor at a university power plant. He found the nocturnal schedule easy enough to manage: he would sleep in the morning for a few hours, write all afternoon, visit his mother for coffee on the way to work, and take catnaps throughout his undemanding shift. He did not wait for inspiration to strike. “I write when the spirit moves me,” Faulkner said, “and the spirit moves me every day.”

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou

For many years, Angelou worked in hotel or motel rooms, the more anonymous the better. In 1983, she told an interviewer, “I keep a hotel room in which I do my work—a tiny, mean room with just a bed, and sometimes, if I can find it, a face basin. I keep a dictionary, a Bible, a deck of cards and a bottle of sherry in the room. I try to get there around 7, and I work until 2 in the afternoon. If the work is going badly, I stay until 12:30. If it’s going well, I’ll stay as long as it’s going well. It’s lonely, and it’s marvelous.”

Joseph Heller

Joseph Heller

Heller wrote Catch-22 in the evenings after work, sitting at the kitchen table in his Manhattan apartment. “I spent two or three hours a night on it for eight years,” he said. “I gave up once and started watching television with my wife. Television drove me back to Catch-22. I couldn’t imagine what Americans did at night when they weren’t writing novels.” During the day he worked in the advertising departments of Time, Look, and, finally, McCall’s magazines. He was not miserable at those jobs—he later called his Time colleagues the “most intelligent and well-informed people I worked with in my life,” and said that he put as much creative effort into a McCall’s promotional campaign as he did into his fiction at night.

Thomas Mann

Thomas Mann

Mann was always awake by 8:00 a.m. After getting out of bed, he drank a cup of coffee, took a bath, dressed, and had breakfast with his wife. Then, at 9:00, Mann closed the door to his study, making himself unavailable for visitors, telephone calls, or family. The children were strictly forbidden to make any noise between 9:00 and noon, Mann’s prime writing hours. It was then that his mind was freshest, and Mann placed tremendous pressure on himself to get things down during that time. Anything that didn’t come by noon would have to wait until the next day, so he forced himself to “clench the teeth and take one slow step at a time.”

John Milton

John Milton

Milton was totally blind for the last 20 years of his life, yet he managed to produce a steady stream of writing, including his magnum opus, the ten-thousand-line epic poem Paradise Lost. Milton devoted the morning to solitary contemplation in bed, beginning at 4:00 a.m. (5:00 a.m. in the winter). First he had an aide read to him from the Bible for half an hour. Then Milton was left alone to compose as many lines as his memory could retain. At 7:00, Milton’s aide returned to take dictation—and if the aide happened to be running late, one early biographer noted, Milton “would complain, saying he wanted to be milked.”

Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand

In 1942, under pressure to finish what would become her breakthrough novel, The Fountainhead, Rand turned to a doctor for help to her overcome her chronic fatigue. He prescribed Benzedrine, still a relatively new drug at the time, to boost her energy levels. It did the trick. Rand had spent years planning and composing the first third of her novel; over the next 12 months, fueled by Benzedrine pills, she averaged a chapter a week. Her writing routine during this period was grueling: she wrote day and night, sometimes neglecting to go to bed for days (she took naps on the couch in her clothes instead).

George Sand

George Sand

 Sand produced a minimum of 20 manuscript pages nearly every night of her adult life. She always worked late at night, a habit she picked up as a teenager caring for her ailing grandmother, when the nighttime hours were her only chance to be alone and think. As an adult, it was not unusual for her to slip out of a sleeping lover’s bed to begin a new novel in the middle of the night. In the mornings, Sand often couldn’t remember what she had written during these nocturnal writing sessions. “If I did not have my works on a shelf, I would even forget their titles,” she claimed.

~ Mason Currey

Written by MattAndJojang

May 21, 2013 at 9:00 am