The Craft of Words
How much has been written on the art of writing? To write clearly, is to think clearly. Know what you want to say, or discover it as you write. Curated below are writers' versions of 'how to', from deeply philosophical reasons for, and approaches to, writing, to the deliberately utilitarian. Also in for good measure is a piece by David Foster Wallace, a masterclass in how the most seemingly pedestrian topic can be corralled by the muse, and transformed in a compelling tale. Peruse to get inside the mind of writers whose words last to this day, or dip in when writer's block takes the ink straight out of your pen.
'In Awe of Words'
by John Steinbeck
published in The Exonian, 3 March 1954
A MAN who writes a story is forced to put into it the best of his knowledge and the best of his feeling. The discipline of the written word punishes both stupidity and dishonesty. A writer lives in awe of words for they can be cruel or kind, and they can change their meanings right in front of you. They pick up flavors and odors like butter in a refrigerator. Of course, there are dishonest writers who go on for a little while, but not for long not for long. A writer out of loneliness is trying to communicate like a distant star sending signals. He isn’t telling or teaching or ordering. Rather he seeks to establish a relationship of meaning, of feeling, of observing. We are lonesome animals. We spend all life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say and to feel “Yes, that’s the way it is, or at least that’s the way I feel it. You’re not as alone as you thought.” It is so hard to be clear. Only a fool is willfully obscure. Of course a writer rearranges life, shortens time intervals, sharpens events, and devises beginnings, middles and ends. And this is arbitrary because there are no beginnings nor any ends. We do have curtains in a day, morning, noon and night, in a man, birth, growth and death. These are curtain rise and curtain fall, but the story goes on and nothing finishes. To finish is sadness to a writer —a little death. He puts the last word down and it is done. But it isn’t really done. The story goes on and leaves the writer behind, for no story is ever done.
The Political Writer
George Orwell, 'Why I Write'
"What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art. My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art’. I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article, if it were not also an aesthetic experience..."
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Arundhati Roy, 'What is the Morally Appropriate Language in Which to Think and Write?'
"At a book reading in Kolkata, about a week after my first novel, The God of Small Things, was published, a member of the audience stood up and asked, in a tone that was distinctly hostile: “Has any writer ever written a masterpiece in an alien language? In a language other than his mother tongue?” I hadn’t claimed to have written a masterpiece (nor to be a “he”), but nevertheless I understood his anger toward a me, a writer who lived in India, wrote in English, and who had attracted an absurd amount of attention. My answer to his question made him even angrier.
“Nabokov,” I said. And he stormed out of the hall.'
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The Miscellaneous Writer
David Foster Wallace, 'Consider the Lobster'
'So then here is a question that’s all but unavoidable at the World’s Largest Lobster Cooker, and may arise in kitchens across the U.S.: Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure? A related set of concerns: Is the previous question irksomely PC or sentimental? What does “all right” even mean in this context? Is it all just a matter of individual choice?'
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