It’s a good month for cherry-picking some wise thoughts about writing and storytelling from some of the Fairfield Writer’s Blog’s favorite authors who are in the news and in the craft journals. As always, the FWB recommends turning to the full-length pieces after reading these samples.
The writers include:
Larry McMurtry, storyteller extraordinaire, who will be presented with the National Humanities Medal by President Obama on September 10.
John McPhee, “creative nonfiction” magazine writer extraordinaire, who just published the latest installment in his series about writing, in the September 14 issue of The New Yorker.
John Steinbeck, 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature winner extraordinaire, whose thoughts about writing are so timeless that one is in the current issue of The Writer.
And Dennis Lehane, crime novelist extraordinaire, who is the cover subject of the latest issue of Writer’s Digest.
Here is the sampling:
McMurtry, to a 2013 writer’s workshop in his hometown of Archer City, Texas:
“I don’t start [a story] until I have an ending in mind. It’s much easier to write toward an ending than it is to write away from the beginning.”
Karr, in a feature with journalist Alexandra Wolfe in The Wall Street Journal:
“[Writing memoir is] cathartic, but the purpose of it is not your catharsis. You’re publishing it to create an emotional experience in another human being, and for me, unless another human being reads it and has that feeling, there’s no point.”
McPhee, in his piece titled “Omission”:
“Writing is selection. Just to start a piece of writing you have to choose one word and only one from more than a million in the language. Now keep going. What is your next word? Your next sentence, paragraph, section, chapter? Your next ball of fact. You select what goes in and you decide what stays out. At base you have only one criterion: If something interests you, it goes in—if not, it stays out. That’s a crude way to assess things, but it’s all you’ve got. . . .Write on subjects in which you have enough interest on your own to see you through all the stops, starts, hesitations, and other impediments along the way.”
“Ernest Hemingway’s Theory of Omission seems to me to be saying to writers, ‘Back off. Let the reader do the creating.’ To cause a reader to see in her mind’s eye an entire autumnal landscape, for example, a writer needs to deliver only a few words and images—such as corn shocks, pheasants, and an early frost. The creative writer leaves white space between chapters or segments of chapters. The creative reader silently articulates the unwritten thought that is present in the white space. Let the reader have the experience. Leave judgment in the eye of the beholder. When you are deciding what to leave out, begin with the author. If you see yourself prancing around between subject and reader, get lost. Give elbow room to the creative reader. In other words, to the extent that this is all about you, leave that out.”
“If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.”
Lehane, in an interview with Steve Boisson in the October 2015 issue of Writer’s Digest:
“. . .It’s really important to write every day. You have to do an hour a day minimum or the muscles get atrophied.”
“. . .Sometimes the reason to write something is because it’s cool. Because you enjoy it. Because you’re having fun. Because you just think, Hey, why not? Those are reasons that sometimes get lost in the more schematic ways we approach writing. Sometimes if you get excited, guess what? The reader’s going to get excited, too.”