When you are writing you are doing something that other people don’t know you are doing, and you can’t really talk about it, you are always finding your way in this secret world, and then you are doing something else in the normal world.
He has flown all night over the ocean from the New World, descending from moon stare and the rigid stars into the murk and tumult of inversion shrouding winter Poland.
—Peter Matthiessen, In Paradise
Something that I sometimes say, and even sometimes believe, is that there has been a loss of the cult of genius. When I was younger, I remember going around totally deluded by the idea that other people might, in fact, be geniuses or at least be able to express this in any intelligible fashion. The idea that you might do something radically brilliant—that assumption is very empowering and it has given the world a lot of really interesting things to look at. It’s a side effect of the cult of normality—the idea that it would be preposterous and perhaps undesirable to single yourself out in that way. I think that’s why a lot of stuff that basically amounts to breaking china is seen as being creative when, in fact, it’s as subservient to prevailing norms as anything else is, as obedience to them would be.
If you’ve got any vague hint of originality about you at all, then you’re going to struggle at first.
The reason we love nature is because it’s fascinating and we love all the creatures, but if you watch any nature film, there’s always a lesson: “the creatures are all dying and life sucks.” The same is true of literature.
Looking for subjects is absurd. I’ve always written about things that matter to me in my own life, the things I think about, the things I worry about, that are rather universal I would say. Secrecy, confidence, betrayal and suspicion and love and friendship and death and marriage – things that I’m worried about, not as literary subjects, but just in life.
For two whole years I have been living increasingly in the very midst of an alarm, whose most palpable cause (a self-induced stimulation) I invariably, with devilish obsession, exacerbate just when I think I have overcome the temptation to indulge it. It is a horrible circle, a ring of evil magic that encloses me as into a picture of Hell Breughel.
—Rilke to Lou Andreas-Salomé (1925)
If you’re looking at reality right now in America you’re going to get some pretty horrific stories. I mean the real America, not the corporate bullshit America.
I want to tell a story, in the old-fashioned way—what happens to somebody—but I want that “what happens” to be delivered with quite a bit of interruption, turnarounds, and strangeness. I want the reader to feel something is astonishing—not the “what happens” but the way everything happens.
—Alice Munro #Nobel
She herself is a haunted house. She does not possess herself; her ancestors sometimes come and peer out of the windows of her eyes and that is very frightening. She has the mysterious solitude of ambiguous states; she hovers in a no-man’s land between life and death, sleeping and waking.