Archives for posts with tag: Paris Review

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The Spring 1958 issue of the Paris Review included an interviewGeorge Plimpton conducted with Ernest Hemingway at the author’s home outside Havana, Cuba. Hemingway invited Plimpton into his inner sanctum–his writing room–and allowed the interviewer to observe his writing methods. Here are some of Plimpton’s observations:

…on the top of one of these cluttered bookcases—the one against the wall by the east window and three feet or so from his bed…Hemingway has his “work desk”—a square foot of cramped area hemmed in by books on one side and on the other by a newspaper-covered heap of papers, manuscripts, and pamphlets. There is just enough space left on top of the bookcase for a typewriter, surmounted by a wooden reading board, five or six pencils, and a chunk of copper ore to weight down papers when the wind blows in from the east window.

A working habit he has had from the beginning, Hemingway stands when he writes. He stands in a pair of his oversized loafers on the worn skin of a lesser kudu—the typewriter and the reading board chest-high opposite him.

When Hemingway starts on a project he always begins with a pencil, using the reading board to write on onionskin typewriter paper. He keeps a sheaf of the blank paper on a clipboard to the left of the typewriter, extracting the paper a sheet at a time from under a metal clip that reads “These Must Be Paid.” He places the paper slantwise on the reading board, leans against the board with his left arm, steadying the paper with his hand, and fills the paper with handwriting which through the years has become larger, more boyish, with a paucity of punctuation, very few capitals, and often the period marked with an X. The page completed, he clips it facedown on another clipboard that he places off to the right of the typewriter.

Hemingway shifts to the typewriter, lifting off the reading board, only when the writing is going fast and well, or when the writing is, for him at least, simple: dialogue, for instance.

He keeps track of his daily progress—“so as not to kid myself”—on a large chart made out of the side of a cardboard packing case and set up against the wall under the nose of a mounted gazelle head. The numbers on the chart showing the daily output of words differ from 450, 575, 462, 1250, back to 512, the higher figures on days Hemingway puts in extra work so he won’t feel guilty spending the following day fishing on the Gulf Stream.

Read “Ernest Hemingway: The Art of Fiction” at the Paris Review.

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In a Paris Review interview conducted by George Plimpton, novelist E.L. Doctorow discusses some of his writing challenges — including trying to write an absence note for his grammar-school-aged daughter.

INTERVIEWER: You once told me that the most difficult thing for a writer to write was a simple household note to someone coming to collect the laundry, or instructions to a cook.

E. L. DOCTOROW: What I was thinking of was a note I had to write to the teacher when one of my children missed a day of school. It was my daughter, Caroline, who was then in the second or third grade. I was having my breakfast one morning when she appeared with her lunch box, her rain slicker, and everything, and she said, “I need an absence note for the teacher and the bus is coming in a few minutes.” She gave me a pad and a pencil; even as a child she was very thoughtful. So I wrote down the date and I started, Dear Mrs. So-and-so, my daughter Caroline . . . and then I thought, No, that’s not right, obviously it’s my daughter Caroline. I tore that sheet off, and started again. Yesterday, my child . . . No, that wasn’t right either. Too much like a deposition. This went on until I heard a horn blowing outside. The child was in a state of panic. There was a pile of crumpled pages on the floor, and my wife was saying, “I can’t believe this. I can’t believe this.” She took the pad and pencil and dashed something off. I had been trying to write the perfect absence note. It was a very illuminating experience. Writing is immensely difficult. The short forms especially.

Photo: Skobrik, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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The Spring 1958 issue of the Paris Review included an interview George Plimpton conducted with Ernest Hemingway at the author’s home outside Havana, Cuba. Hemingway invited Plimpton into his inner sanctum–his writing room–and allowed the interviewer to observe his writing methods. Here are some of Plimpton’s observations:

…on the top of one of these cluttered bookcases—the one against the wall by the east window and three feet or so from his bed…Hemingway has his “work desk”—a square foot of cramped area hemmed in by books on one side and on the other by a newspaper-covered heap of papers, manuscripts, and pamphlets. There is just enough space left on top of the bookcase for a typewriter, surmounted by a wooden reading board, five or six pencils, and a chunk of copper ore to weight down papers when the wind blows in from the east window.

A working habit he has had from the beginning, Hemingway stands when he writes. He stands in a pair of his oversized loafers on the worn skin of a lesser kudu—the typewriter and the reading board chest-high opposite him.

When Hemingway starts on a project he always begins with a pencil, using the reading board to write on onionskin typewriter paper. He keeps a sheaf of the blank paper on a clipboard to the left of the typewriter, extracting the paper a sheet at a time from under a metal clip that reads “These Must Be Paid.” He places the paper slantwise on the reading board, leans against the board with his left arm, steadying the paper with his hand, and fills the paper with handwriting which through the years has become larger, more boyish, with a paucity of punctuation, very few capitals, and often the period marked with an X. The page completed, he clips it facedown on another clipboard that he places off to the right of the typewriter.

Hemingway shifts to the typewriter, lifting off the reading board, only when the writing is going fast and well, or when the writing is, for him at least, simple: dialogue, for instance.

He keeps track of his daily progress—“so as not to kid myself”—on a large chart made out of the side of a cardboard packing case and set up against the wall under the nose of a mounted gazelle head. The numbers on the chart showing the daily output of words differ from 450, 575, 462, 1250, back to 512, the higher figures on days Hemingway puts in extra work so he won’t feel guilty spending the following day fishing on the Gulf Stream.

Read “Ernest Hemingway: The Art of Fiction” at the Paris Review.

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In a Paris Review interview conducted by George Plimpton, novelist E.L. Doctorow discusses some of his writing challenges — including trying to write an absence note for his grammar-school-aged daughter. I loved the humor here!

INTERVIEWER: You once told me that the most difficult thing for a writer to write was a simple household note to someone coming to collect the laundry, or instructions to a cook.

E. L. DOCTOROW: What I was thinking of was a note I had to write to the teacher when one of my children missed a day of school. It was my daughter, Caroline, who was then in the second or third grade. I was having my breakfast one morning when she appeared with her lunch box, her rain slicker, and everything, and she said, “I need an absence note for the teacher and the bus is coming in a few minutes.” She gave me a pad and a pencil; even as a child she was very thoughtful. So I wrote down the date and I started, Dear Mrs. So-and-so, my daughter Caroline . . . and then I thought, No, that’s not right, obviously it’s my daughter Caroline. I tore that sheet off, and started again. Yesterday, my child . . . No, that wasn’t right either. Too much like a deposition. This went on until I heard a horn blowing outside. The child was in a state of panic. There was a pile of crumpled pages on the floor, and my wife was saying, “I can’t believe this. I can’t believe this.” She took the pad and pencil and dashed something off. I had been trying to write the perfect absence note. It was a very illuminating experience. Writing is immensely difficult. The short forms especially.

INTERVIEWER: How much tinkering do you actually do when you get down to nonhousehold work—a novel, say?

DOCTOROW: I don’t think anything I’ve written has been done in under six or eight drafts. Usually it takes me a few years to write a book. World’s Fair was an exception. It seemed to be a particularly fluent book as it came. I did it in seven months. I think what happened in that case is that God gave me a bonus book.

Photo: Skobrik, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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“…grand ideas kill first efforts. Begin with something in your range…I’d be paralyzed if I thought I had to write a great novel…The gratification has to come from the effort itself…I approach the work as though…the words are everything. Then I write to save my life. If you are a writer, that will be true. Writing has saved my life.” LOUISE ERDRICH, as quoted in a 2010 PARIS REVIEW interview. Find the fascinating interview here.

You can read a review of Erdrich’s most recent novel Shadow Tag in the New York Times here.

I consider Louise Erdrich one of the finest writers of all time — I am in awe of her. In the late 1990s, I was fortunate to have met Ms. Erdrich during a reading in the Chicago area. I was not only impressed with her words, her stories, and her power as a reader, I was also impressed with her as a warm, generous human being.

Thank you for the great advice, Louise.

Photo: Allen Brisson-Smith for The New York Times, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.