Writing Process

James Salter Interview (Paris Review)

So many good things in this James Salter interview.

On writers and traveling:

There is no situation like the open road, and seeing things completely afresh. I’m used to traveling. It’s not a question of meeting or seeing new faces particularly, or hearing new stories, but of looking at life in a different way. It’s the curtain coming up on another act. […] In a certain sense, a writer is an exile, an outsider, always reporting on things, and it is part of his life to keep on the move.

On revision and editing:

I hate the first inexact, inadequate expression of things. The whole joy of writing comes from the opportunity to go over it and make it good, one way or another. […] I find the most difficult part of writing is to get it down initially because what you have written is usually so terrible that it’s disheartening, you don’t want to go on. That’s what I think is hard—the discouragement that comes from seeing what you have done. This is all you could manage?

And on the reason one desires to write:

I didn’t know what made me write at the beginning, but later I understood. It’s simple: the one who writes it keeps it.

That last bit is probably the most interesting part of the interview. I’ve never heard it said like that before, but it strikes very true in several ways. “The one who writes it keeps it”: The story a writer excavates belongs in name to her/him ever after. Or, the story is an idea that can be kept in a certain form by writing it. Writing is addicting because you begin to think: Imagine if I could mold into some sort of visible shape all the things that cross the mind.

I admit I hadn’t read anything of Salter’s before looking at the interview. I’ve read two stories since then: “Last Night” and “Charisma.” Both are odd in a way I can’t quite pinpoint yet. Odd possibly because they start out seeming like ordinary realism but turn out to be somehow, mysteriously otherwise. “Last Night” has the feel of Greek tragedy. “Charisma” uses a logic that strikes me as dreamlike, mystical. I guess they are realism through a mythic lens? That’s the best way I can describe it for now.

And one last nice bit:

My idea of writing is of unflinching and continual effort, somehow trying to find the right words until you reach a point where you can make no further progress and you either have something or you don’t.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s