Friday, April 11, 2008

Thoughts On Writing

I’ve been reading Updike’s collected criticism, Hugging The Shore. It’s exactly what you’d expect from Updike—elegance, suavity, compassion. Here’s a selection from a review of Hemingway’s letters which I found surprisingly insightful.   (The Hemingway, I mean: Updike never surprises you with insight.)

…upon receiving the volume of his collected short stoires in 1938, he wrote Maxewll Perkins, “When I got the book and saw all those stoires I knew I was all right as a sort of lasting business if I kicked off tomorrow.”

For this rough, rude, appetitive, and even murderous man had bent his thoughts more intently toward literary immortality and perfection of prose than any American fiction writer since Henry James. His writing competed with his life—at first, with the need to make a dollar and the wish to have a good time; later, with celebrity, ill health, and the wish to have a good time.
In going where you have to go, and doing what you have to do, and seeing what you have to see, you dull and blunt the instrument you write with. But I would rather have it bent and dulled and know I had to put it on the grindstone again and ahammer it into shape and put a whetstone to it, and know that I had something to write about, than to have it bright and shiny and nothing to say, or smooth and well-oiled in the closet, but unused.
Thus he introduced the book of stories that certified him, he flet, as “a sort of lasting business.” In all the conditions of convalescence and hangover, in hotel rooms and at his homes in Paris and Key West, Cuba and Sun Valley, he wrote, rising early and lovingly noting the number of words acheivered each morning—a habit left over from his days of counting words for foreign dispatch....   


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