Thursday, August 04, 2011

Thursday extracts. Paul Auster's view of writing.

Paul Auster writes a lot about writing. In fact one of the reasons that I stopped buying his books is because he got very self indulgent about it at one time.  But his early works are excellent and well worth tracking down if you don't know him.  Leviathan is one of my favourites. The reason for the photo is that The Statue of Liberty plays a huge role in the story. The book starts with someone blowing himself up while setting a bomb. This is a long time before 9/11. Leviathan was first published in 1992, but it is probably just as relevant today as it was twenty years ago.

However, two main characters are writers, and in this extract (Technically it's three extracts from the same chapter.) Auster compares their style and output. I'm sure every writer will relate to at least part of it.


After the success of his first novel, he immediately started to write another, but once he was a hundred pages into it, he tore up the manuscript and burned it. Inventing stories was a sham, he said, and just like that he decided to give up fiction writing, He began writing essays after that, all kinds of essays and articles on a countless variety of subjects: politics, literature, sports, history, popular culture, food, whatever was in demand, so he never had trouble finding magazines to publish his pieces, but there was something indiscriminate about the way he went about it. He wrote with equal fervour for national magazines and obscure literary journals, hardly noticing that some publications paid large sums of money for article s and others paid nothing at all.

I was always astonished by how quickly he worked, by his ability to crank out articles under pressure of deadlines, to produce so much without seeming to exhaust himself. It was nothing for Sachs to write ten or twelve pages at a single sitting, to start and finish an entire piece without once standing up from his typewriter. Work was like an athletic contest for him, an endurance race between his body and his mind, but since he was able to bear down on his thoughts with such concentration, to think with such unanimity of purpose, the words always seemed to be there for him, as if he had found a secret passageway that ran straight from his head to the tips of his fingers. 'Typing for Dollars,' he sometimes called it, but that was only because he couldn't resist making fun of himself.

I have always been a plodder, a person who anguishes and struggles over each sentence, and even on my best days I do no more than inch along, crawling on my belly like a man lost in the desert. The smallest word is surrounded by acres of silence for me, and even after I manage to get that word down on the page, it seems to sit there like a mirage, a speck of doubt glimmering in the sand. Language has never been accessible to me in the way that it was for Sachs. I'm shut off from my own thoughts, trapped in a no-man's-land between feeling and articulation, and no matter how hard I try to express myself, I can rarely come up with more than a confused stammer. Sachs never had any of these difficulties. Words and things matched up for him, whereas for me they are constantly breaking apart, flying off in a hundred different directions. I spend most of my time picking up the pieces and gluing them back together.

Paul Auster
Faber and Faber


snafu said...

That last excerpt seems to fit my lack of output, I am a wannabee writer but spend more time re-writing than writing as so never get anywhere. Even these comments are often a third or fourth attempt. So my writing is just a hobby, never likely to go anywhere.

BRIDGET said...

I relate to the last extract too but there is virtue in being a plodder. We don't give up. And I think most writers do find writing a struggle. It is not easy - there is a craft to learn and part of that is how to make it appear easy. We don't want the reader to see the sweat and tears