Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) lived to be only 51 yet wrote more than 90 novels and novellas in his lifetime.
His La Comedie Humaine had 2,000 characters in it, and filled 47 volumes.
Charles Dickens (1812-1870) wrote with a goose quill pen and blue ink on blue-gray slips of paper measuring 8 3/4 by 7 1/4 inches. He wrote a minimum of 2,000 words a day (some days he managed 4,000), publishing 17 novels in his lifetime. All of them are still in print.
While Margaret Drabble (1939 to present) was writing “The Needle’s Eye” she didn’t buy any new clothes because she didn’t feel her character, Rose, would buy any. “I was incredibly shabby by the end of the book,” she said.
D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930) never revised. If he didn’t like something he started over again at the beginning. He rewrote “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” three times, start to finish.
Here’s what George Orwell (1903-1950) had to say about writing: “Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon one can neither resist nor understand.”
John Steinbeck (1902-1968) wrote with a lead pencil. He went through as many as 60 a day. The edges of hexagonal pencils hurt his fingers, so he used round ones.
Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966) burned his first unpublished novel, “The Temple at Thatch,” after a friend said he did not like it. He also tried to drown himself, but returned to shore when stung by jellyfish.
Jennifer Egan (1962) writes the first draft of her novels by hand on yellow pads. She doesn’t go back and read a word until she finishes a complete draft. Then and only then does she type it into a computer, editing as she goes.
Frederick Forsyth (1938) writes his thrillers in 45 days. He works six hours a day, averaging 10 pages each session. Before starting to write he usually takes six months to research his facts, saying that to him the research is much more interesting than the writing.
Erskine Caldwell (1903-1987) said: “You have to use your imagination to invent something better than life, because life itself is dull and prosaic.”
Jack London (1876-1916) lived to be only 40 but wrote 50 novels, at the rate of 1,000 words a day. He gave this advice to writers: “Don’t loaf and invite inspiration; light out after it with a club, and if you don’t get it you will nonetheless get something that looks remarkably like it.”
Eudora Welty (1909-2001) pinned the pages of her stories into one long strip so she could see them “as a whole and at a glance.” She’d spread long stories on a bed or table. Her “worst stories,” she said, “were like patchwork quilts–you could almost read them in any direction.”
Roger Rosenblatt (1940) writes this in Unless It Moves The Human Heart: “If you’re going to write, you must think about words more seriously than you ever have. Learn to pick your spots, to choose when to use ordinary language and special, heightened language. But every word must be the only one for its place, and it must function in every way, not just adequately.”
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) wrote these wise words: “A line will take us hours maybe/Yet if it does seem a moment’s thought/our stitching and unstitching has been naught.”
From James Woods’s “How Fiction Works”: “The kind of metaphor I most delight in . . .estranges and then instantly connects, and in doing the latter so well, hides the former. The result is a tiny shock of surprise, followed by a feeling of inevitability.”
Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) offers us these helpful truths about the process of writing: “The way to rock oneself back into writing is this. First gentle exercise in the air. Second the reading of good literature. It is a mistake to think that literature can be produced from the raw.”
E. L. Doctorow (1931 to present) : “Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.”
Welcome to Yellow Wallpaper. We are four writers--Karen Burns, Mary Casey, Lynn Wiley Grant, & Christine Johnson-Duell--who meet regularly to write our own fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and memoir. We started this weblog so we can continue and extend our real-life conversations about writing, writers, and our compulsion to make things up.
Why "Yellow Wallpaper"? In Charlotte Perkins Gilman's story The Yellow Wallpaper, a woman who wants to write is told she is ill by her doctor husband and confined to a room. It has yellow wallpaper, which she at first abhors but later befriends, believing women live inside it. She ends up locking herself into the room and throwing the key out the window. Here's what this story says to us: DON'T let your family, job, schedule or responsibilites impede you. Write anyway. DON'T let others define you. Or your writing. DON'T wait to be locked in. Lock yourself in! Finally, whatever room you're in, LOOK for the women in the wallpaper. They are your community.