Sunday, October 2, 2011

Dad's Advice to Writers (1997)

From two different letters written in 1997:

I like Milan Kundera's line. "To be a writer does not mean to preach the truth, it means to discover a truth." Of course my favorite line about writing is from W.B. Yeats: "Only that which does not teach, which does not cry out, which does not condescend, which does not explain, is irresistible"" I have that framed next to my desk -- along with the Moliere quote: "Writing is like prostitution: First you do it for the love of it, then you do it for a few friends, and finally you do it for the money." The best advice I've ever come across for writers is from J.D. Salinger's vastly under-appreciated short story "Seymour: An introduction." It was included in one of Seymour Glass's letters to his brother Buddy: "If only you'd remember before you sit down to write that you've been a reader long before you were ever a writer. You simply fix that in your mind, then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world Buddy Glass would most want to read if he had his heart's choice. The next step is terrible, but so simple I can barely believe it as I write it. You sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself. I won't even underline that. It's too important to be underlined. Oh, dare to do it Buddy! Trust your heart."

...It sounds so simple doesn't it? It isn't of course, because no writer gets it right the first time through. No one said writing is easy. Nor is rewriting and rewriting, again and again, until your text reads as if it hadn't been written at all, but rather as if the proper words just appeared marching in their proper sequence like good little soldiers on after another, from sentence to paragraph to chapter to book. And how an author weaves those words together is what we think of as that writer's style, which is another way of saying his or her voice.

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