Literary quips, observations, and instructions #5

The Procrastination Edition

“Delay is natural to a writer. He is like a surfer — he bides his time, waits for the perfect wave on which to ride in. Delay is instinctive for him. He waits for the surge (of emotion? of strength? of courage?) that will carry him along. I have no warm-up exercises, other than to take an occasional drink.” — E.B. White (pictured), The Paris Review, 1969

“Of course any novelist has difficulties. I don’t have ‘blocks,’ I mean I don’t get into a state where absolutely nothing can be done for weeks; I can always do something, though the something that I do may have to be revised later on… I think the thing to do is to make one’s unconscious mind work for one. When there’s a problem, and suddenly you get a sort of knot in the procedure, where you want to do two things that are incompatible, for instance, or when you can’t really see what a character is like — there’s a sort of blank slate where the character ought to be — then you must meditate upon the problem, set it, as it were, as a problem to your unconscious mind, and hope that suddenly some creative flash will arrive. And that is a time that requires very great patience.” — Iris Murdoch, The Threepenny Review, 1984

“There is a radical error, I think, in the usual mode of constructing a story… I prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect. Keeping originality always in view… I say to myself, in the first place, ‘Of the innumerable effects, or impressions, of which the heart, the intellect, or (more generally) the soul is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present occasion, select?’ Having chosen a novel, first, and secondly a vivid effect, I consider whether it can be best wrought by incident or tone…” — Edgar Allan Poe, The Philosophy of Composition, 1846

“The book took a time long to finish because it took a long time to finish. There was a lot of it I didn’t understand. It often takes me a long time to write.” — Jamaica Kincaid, Salon, 1996

Prior literary quips, observations, and instructions: 1, 2, 3, and 4.


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