writing advice

Yesterday, E. L. Doctorow was on campus and read from his new book. Homer, a blind character in the book, narrates. This character presents the reader clear imagery of scenes without seeing them. During the Q & A, my artist friend asked how Doctorow, as a writer, is able to craft this. I thought of a similar question, but it was more poetic coming from a painter, I thought. And the answer? Doctorow thought thoughtfully for a moment and replied, “Would anyone else like to field this question?” We laughed. I think he was serious. He continued.

“It’s one thing to write these books; it’s another thing to understand them.” He was unapologetic, but explained that the intuition, the voice within, the art of it all, and whatever muse urges these things together into a taxicab , this isn’t something we understand. He told us that the writer has to “trust the act of writing to do the work for you.” The story, the characters, the voices — these things all come out of the writer by virtue of the pen. If we understood these things, well, then we wouldn’t be inviting authors to come speak to us, would we?

A student asked him what advice he had for the aspiring writer. “Read,” of course. The second thing one should do: Write. Beyond this, there were no big secrets. My writing comes in spurts, mostly emails. That’s also what seems to consume most of my reading some days. So maybe I can find a future in that.


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