My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Writers Talking Smack

When writers talk about "the rules" of writing, they always forget to talk about them as THEIR rules. Young writers, especially standing in the splendor of a successful, published author, are sometimes in awe of another person who has made the magic work.

These writers forget to whip out their grains of salt, and the result is that legions of young writers forget that art is like Jujitsu--do what ever works. "Whatever works" might break one of another writers vaunted rules or even conventional writing wisdom. The end result being that writers are often quoted at length for their "Thou shalt..."/"Thou shalt not..." advice without a second thought. It's important to remember that writing is not an equation or it wouldn't be an art and a lot more people would be very good at it.

In the same way we have different tastes in reading, we have different tastes in writing. When a chef says "don't use too much butter in your cooking" we somehow know that is THEIR style and that Julia Child would have a thing or two to say about that, but when it comes to writing the tendency is to forget that not all writers--and even not all GOOD, FAMOUS, LITERARY writers--agree on rules or style or even what makes good writing.

And what could possibly illustrate that point more than seeing great writers talk shit about other great writers?

"[Hemingway] has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary."
-William Faulkner
"Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?"
-Ernest Hemingway

"[Ulysses is] the work of a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples."
-Virginia Woolf (about Ulysses)

"That's not writing, that's typing."
-Truman Capote (on Jack Kerouac)

“…like a large shaggy dog just unchained scouring the beaches of the world and baying at the moon.”
-Robert Lewis Stevenson on Walt Whitman

“All raw, uncooked, protesting.”
-Virginia Woolf on Aldous Huxley

“Miss Austen’s novels . . . seem to me vulgar in tone, sterile in artistic invention, imprisoned in the wretched conventions of English society, without genius, wit, or knowledge of the world. Never was life so pinched and narrow. The one problem in the mind of the writer . . . is marriageableness.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson on Jane Austen

“A hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tricked out a few of the old proven sure fire literary skeletons with sufficient local color to intrigue the superficial and the lazy.”
-William Faulkner on Mark Twain

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