Friday, February 20, 2009

on writing: just open a vein

Since I started writing this blog, all three days ago, I've been neglecting some of my other more time/thought consuming writing. Sitting on my laptop at home, I have the humble beginnings of two plays and three short stories, all with no end in sight. And now that I can get a quick fix writing on daily obsessional, these other pursuits may be further procrastinated. Hopefully, I will write a little this weekend, or next weekend. Or possibly the weekend after? If you can't tell yet, I have commitment issues.

Writing about trash tv or advertising is easy for me, it's all head and no heart. In my opinion, despite all the advice they give fledgling writers, it's hard to write what you know, or more accurately, who you know. In fact, it almost feels like an act of betrayal to leave the truth out there so naked. So open to criticism.

I always felt that great writing comes when authors can in one stroke be terribly cruel and overly-sensitive, revealing the best and worst of their natures through another person's story. For me, writing in such an honest way is incredibly intimidating. I have enough trouble dealing with self-scrutiny, let alone the judgement of others. I have yet to write anything that feels close to me. Lately, I've been in the habit of finding excerpts about writing from authors who have a far better capacity for baring all. 
Here's some of my favorites.

I first read this one, in the introduction to a book of short stories. To this day, it makes me want to be a writer, and dread the very idea of a life committed to writing.

" I started writing, not knowing that I had chained myself to a noble but merciless master. When God hands you a gift, he also hands you a whip; and the whip is intended solely for self-flagellation...I'm here alone in my dark madness, all by myself with my deck of cards--- and, of course, the whip God gave me."
- Truman Capote

Currently, rereading Slouching toward Bethlehem. Joan Didion has an uncanny ability to seem hopelessly frail while gnawing at the bits. The last words from the introduction: 

" I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget my presence runs counter to their best interests. And it always does. That is one last thing to remember: writers are always selling somebody out."
-Joan Didion

An excerpt from Elizabeth Costello, where her son remarks on the writing of his aging mother.

" ... she writes with an insight that shakes him. It is positively indecent. She shakes him; that is what she presumably does to other readers. That is why presumably in the larger picture, she exists."
-J.M. Coetzee

And lastly. So simple. So true.

" There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein."
- Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith

These small insights from the writers I admire, the writers who reach me, always inspire me, yet they make me feel terribly stunted and short, and so not there yet. It's so one of those days. 


  1. Wow great insight! Love the Capote and Wexsley quotes... Just open a vein. So simple in words yet so hard to do. I am with you, even though my blog lets me quench my thirst for an hour or so of writing, i have numerous short stories and possible article ideas ive been working on yet procrastinating with. This weekend can be our weekend of writing!

    Here are a few others i thought youd might enjoy

    "The role of the writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say." - (Anais Nin)

    "What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it." - (Holden Caufield in Catcher in the Rye)

  2. This is a fantastic entry. I to loved the Capote quote - I also Liked the one Jeremy mentioned (Anais Nin).

    I find myself in a similar situation. I started blogging as a means to get into the habit writing regularly, helping me to write the stort stories/novellas I have floating about in note form - But I seem to have fallen in to the trap of spenidng along time on blog posts, and more on reading other peoples!

  3. Wonderful quotes! I'm a visual person - but have often run into the same problem....I can do my "cheeky" graphic design all day long because there's no thought involved, but when it comes to doing "real" art I freeze....