“Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.” In the winter of 2010, inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules of writing published
Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
Laugh at your own jokes.
The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.
“One can never be alone enough to write,”Susan Sontag observed. Solitude, in fact, seems central to many great writers’ daily routines — so much so, it appears, that part of the writer’s curse might be the ineffable struggle to submit to the spell of solitude and escape the grip of loneliness at the same time.
In October of 1954, Ernest Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. But he didn’t exactly live every writer’s dream: First, he told the press that Carl Sandburg, Isak Dinesen and Bernard Berenson were far more worthy of the honor, but he could use the prize money; then, depressed and recovering from two consecutive plane crashes that had nearly killed him, he decided against traveling to Sweden altogether. Choosing not to attend the Nobel Banquet at the City Hall in Stockholm on December 10, 1954, Hemingway asked John C. Cabot, the United States Ambassador to Sweden at the time, to read his Nobel acceptance speech, found in the 1972 biography Hemingway: The Writer as Artist (public library). At a later date, Hemingway recorded the speech in his own voice. Hear an excerpt, then read the transcript of the complete speech below:
Having no facility for speech-making and no command of oratory nor any domination of rhetoric, I wish to thank the administrators of the generosity of Alfred Nobel for this Prize.
No writer who knows the great writers who did not receive the Prize can accept it other than with humility. There is no need to list these writers. Everyone here may make his own list according to his knowledge and his conscience.
It would be impossible for me to ask the Ambassador of my country to read a speech in which a writer said all of the things which are in his heart. Things may not be immediately discernible in what a man writes, and in this sometimes he is fortunate; but eventually they are quite clear and by these and the degree of alchemy that he possesses he will endure or be forgotten.
Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.
For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.
How simple the writing of literature would be if it were only necessary to write in another way what has been well written. It is because we have had such great writers in the past that a writer is driven far out past where he can go, out to where no one can help him.
I have spoken too long for a writer. A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it. Again I thank you.
On a day like today, my master William Faulkner said, “I decline to accept the end of man.” I would fall unworthy of standing in this place that was his, if I were not fully aware that the colossal tragedy he refused to recognize thirty-two years ago is now, for the first time since the beginning of humanity, nothing more than a simple scientific possibility. Faced with this awesome reality that must have seemed a mere utopia through all of human time, we, the inventors of tales, who will believe anything, feel entitled to believe that it is not yet too late to engage in the creation of the opposite utopia. A new and sweeping utopia of life, where no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible, and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth.
Interviewed by Peter H. Stone ISSUE 82, WINTER 1981
In the end all books are written for your friends. The problem after writing One Hundred Years of Solitude was that now I no longer know whom of the millions of readers I am writing for; this upsets and inhibits me. It’s like a million eyes are looking at you and you don’t really know what they think.
In 1974, the University of Georgia school of law hosted “Law Day.” Distinguished journalist/writer Hunter S. Thompson shares his perspective of President Jimmy Carter. The speech that Carter gave not only defended MLK, but also reached a much deeper level of thought among the attendees, including Thompson.
The other source of my understanding about what’s right and wrong in this society is from a friend of mine, a poet named Bob Dylan. After listening to his records about “The Ballad of Hattie Carol” and “Like a Rolling Stone” and “The Times, They Are a-Changing,” I’ve learned to appreciate the dynamism of change in a modern society.
I grew up as a landowner’s son. But I don’t think I ever realized the proper interrelationship between the landowner and those who worked on a farm until I heard Dylan’s record, “I Ain’t Gonna Work on Maggie’s Farm No More.” So I come here speaking to you today about your subject with a base for my information founded on Reinhold Niebuhr and Bob Dylan.
Author Hunter S. Thompson left a spirited voicemail for the AV company that installed his home theater. This classic NSFW rant by America’s foremost provocateur was shared with me and audio specialist Jeremy Burkhardt by the AV company that HST called. —Margot Douaihy
It has been said that ”the true voice of [Hunter S.] Thompson is revealed to be that of American moralist … one who often makes himself ugly to expose the ugliness he sees around him.” That ugliness served its literary and journalistic purpose, no doubt. As for the purpose it served in his private life, in the realm of getting nitty-gritty, mundane things done, that’s a whole other question. Not much is known about this clip other than it features a NSFW voicemail that the gonzo journalist left for his local AV guy in Woody Creek, Colorado. The poor man….
Looking for some pointers on how to live an awesome life? Take it from Charles Bukowski, an American author, poet, short story writer, and novelist who shared his unfiltered views and opinions with the world on everything from art to death. He was a…
1. Don’t Settle
2. Love Yourself
3. Live life to the fullest
4. Don’t fear pain, without it, you can’t experience happiness
5. Be your own unique self and shameless express it in all you do
6. You’re stronger than you think
7. Don’t fear death
8. Have confidence in yourself
9. There are much worse things than loneliness
10. Life happens, don’t always take it so seriously
Behind every great Russian writer there is a great woman: Sofia Tolstoy, Anna Dostoevsky and Vera Nabokov supported their husbands even during the hardest of times
The marriage of Sophia Bers to Leo Tolstoy lasted 48 years and her support helped him produce the epics “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina.” It was Sophia who encouraged him to give up the habits and addictions of his youth. Prominent writer, hero of the siege of Sevastopol, Tolstoy was also a drinker, gambler and womanizer. He confessed it all to Sophia, promising “not to have any women in our village, except for rare chances, which I would neither seek nor prevent” – a witty excuse!
The poverty of Tolstoy’s estate, Yasnaya Polyana, shocked the young Sophia. The bed was without blankets, the dinnerware was old and the rooms in disrepair. Sophia ultimately restored and maintained the rural estate, adding to the chores of wife and mother. But what gave her joy, she said, was the work she did to nurture Tolstoy’s writing.
Sophia became Tolstoy’s secretary, scribe and agent. She copied the entire text of “War and Peace” seven times, and promoted her husband’s works (she even contacted Dostoevsky’s widow for advice). “I’ve never felt my intellectual powers, and even all my moral powers, so free and so capable of work” – Leo Tolstoy wrote during the happiest times of their marriage.
The difficulties began much later when Tolstoy developed a new philosophy near the end of his life. Tolstoy still wrote his wife long love letters, but already began denying the concepts of family and property. “I can’t tell where we went apart, but I had no strength to follow his teaching,” Sophia wrote. Finally, depressed and in disarray, Tolstoy wandered away from his estate.
Sophia reached Leo at a small railroad station where he lay dying, only to witness her husband’s last breath. The will to finish the complete edition of Tolstoy’s works helped Sophia overcome her grief. “I hope people will be lenient with the one who may have been too weak to be a wife of a genius and a truly great man,” she wrote.