Two writers on writing, for Arwen and Laura

Woman Writing, by Pablo Picasso

Woman Writing, by Pablo Picasso

“It is Red Smith who is reported to have said that it’s really very easy to be a writer — all you have to do is sit down at the type-writer and open a vein. Typewriters are few and far between these days, and vein-openers have never grown on trees. Good writers, serious writers — by which I mean the writers we remember, the ones who have opened our eyes, maybe even our hearts, to things we might never have known without them — all put much of themselves into their books the way Charles Dickens put his horror at the Poor Law of 1834 into Oliver Twist, for instance, or Virginia Woolf her complex feelings about her parents into To the Lighthouse, or, less overtly, Flannery O’Connor her religious faith into virtually everything she ever wrote. But opening a vein, I think, points to something beyond that.

“Vein opening writers are putting not just themselves into their books, but themselves at their nakedest and most vulnerable. They are putting their pain and their passion into their books the way Jonathan Swift did in Gulliver’s Travels and Dostoyevsky in The Brothers Karamazov, the way Arthur Miller did in Death of a Salesman, and William Maxwell in They Came Like Swallows. Not all writers do it all the time — even the blood bank recognizes we have only so much blood to give — and many good writers never do it at all either because for one reason or another they don’t chose to or they don’t quite know how to; it takes a certain kind of unguardedness, for one thing, a willingness to run risks, including the risk of making a fool of yourself.”

~Frederick Buechner, from the introduction to “Speak What We Feel (Not What We Ought to Say)

“You ask whether your verses are good. You ask me. You have asked others before. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are disturbed when certain editors reject your efforts. Now (since you have allowed me to advise you) I beg you to give up all that. You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now. Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of you heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all — ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple “I must,” then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it.”

~Rainer Marie Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

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