Welcome back to Well Put: stuff I’ve read online that’s worth sharing.
I love this interview with Ray Bradbury from the Paris Review. The original interview was conducted in the 1970s, but it wasn’t published until a year or so ago–with additional material from more recent conversations. This may be my favorite Paris Review author interview yet, and that is saying a lot. Boy, was he a delight.
How important is it to you to follow your own instincts?
Oh, God. It’s everything. I was offered the chance to write War and Peace for the screen a few decades ago. The American version with King Vidor directing. I turned it down. Everyone said, How could you do that? That’s ridiculous, it’s a great book! I said, Well, it isn’t for me. I can’t read it. I can’t get through it, I tried. That doesn’t mean the book’s bad. I just am not prepared for it. It portrays a very special culture. The names throw me. My wife loved it. She read it once every three years for twenty years. They offered the usual amount for a screenplay like that, a hundred thousand dollars, but you cannot do things for money in this world. I don’t care how much they offer you, and I don’t care how poor you are. There’s only one excuse ever to take money under those circumstances: If someone in your family is horribly ill and the doctor bills are piled up so high that you’re all going to be destroyed. Then I’d say, Go on and take the job. Go do War and Peace and do a lousy job. And be sorry later.
The entire interview is fantastic. I really enjoyed this detail, in the introduction, about Ray Bradbury in his twilight years: “He continues to write and he remains charming and filled with boyish jubilation. When dining out he regularly orders vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce for dessert.” What a great life, and a great man. Rest in peace, Mr. Bradbury.
In his interview, Ray Bradbury didn’t speak highly of writing programs (not surprising, considering that he was proudly self-taught). Neither does Rick Moody, in this story on the importance of mentors, and the damage that writing workshops can do:
As may be evident, I disliked graduate school. On the first day of class at Columbia my workshop instructor, a now successful novelist of something like popular thrillers, remarked that he had dropped out of Stanford because he had been required to read several novels by John Hawkes. This was a red flag for me, and I was right to perceive it as such. During a workshop the same guy said of one of my stories, “I don’t have anything to say about this story, so I’m just going to let the rest of you talk about it.” Later in the semester he told me and one of the few others in the class who went on to publish that we would “never be writers.”
Everyone has anecdotes like this. I have more of them. In my second semester I watched a professor fall asleep while reading aloud from a student’s work. In my third semester a professor asked for a hand count of class members who thought my work was boring. I spent almost my entire fourth semester drinking, without any ill effects on my day-to-day life at Columbia. And so on.
I love that Rick Moody had experiences like this in graduate school, because I had them as well, and now I feel like less of a terrible writer. Rick actually taught at my graduate program, although I was not lucky enough to have him as a teacher. I wish I had been.
Here’s a classic: Kurt Vonnegut’s advice to writers.
5. Sound like yourself
The writing style which is most natural for you is bound to echo the speech you heard when a child. English was Conrad’s third language, and much that seems piquant in his use of English was no doubt colored by his first language, which was Polish. And lucky indeed is the writer who has grown up in Ireland, for the English spoken there is so amusing and musical. I myself grew up in Indianapolis, where common speech sounds like a band saw cutting galvanized tin, and employs a vocabulary as unornamental as a monkey wrench.
Finally, from Lifehacker: The Snarky Voice in Your Head Is Killing Your Productivity; Here’s How to Stop It. I think that title says everything, don’t you?
Roll your eyes at every “hipster” who, by most accounts, is just a person trying (successfully or not) to dress fashionably?
Primarily complain about how horrible people/things are on Facebook/Twitter?
Get angrier every passing moment that you stand in line at the grocery store, or have to wait for your check to arrive at a restaurant?
Find you’re constantly frustrated with coworkers who don’t “get it?”
Comment angrily on blogs, videos, and other web sites (usually beginning with “ummm” and ending with “just saying?”)
Feel like it’s okay to be a complete jerk, as long as you’re “witty” about it?
Sounding familiar? You may have a problem.
Heed this writer’s advice, my friends. It will help your productivity, and also help you keep your friendships and happiness. And that’s pretty important, too.