Behind the Pen

“But it ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it” ~Jack Kerouac

Every writer, or actually any artist has a process – that progression of ritual that gets them where they need to be to access the gift. Years ago, an interesting book came my way called, “The Writer’s Desk” by Jill Krementz (the late Kurt Vonnegut’s wife). The book is full of great photographs of author’s writing in their homes, which varied widely from location and process, with some writing at traditional desks, kitchen tables, while sitting on countertops or while in bed and their views on writing are as varied as their processes.

John Updike wrote in his introduction: “I look at these photographs with a prurient interest, the way that I might look at the beds of notorious courtesans. Except that the beds would tell me less than these desks do. Here the intimacy of the literary act is caught in flagrante delicto: at these desks characters are spawned, plots are spun, imaginative distances are spanned”

Here are 3 of my favorite quotes from the book:

“The sense is of one’s total usefulness. We all have a power of control, it’s part of our lives: we have it in love, in work that we love doing. It’s a sense of ecstasy, as simple as that. It always leaves you feeling great. In short, you’ve made sense of your life” ~John Cheever

{Speaking of the writer’s proclivity toward drinking: Faulkner, Hemingway & Joyce}…”This is not to suggest that any of these writers were alcoholics. I don’t believe that a serious writer is in danger of becoming an alcoholic, because, after a certain point, one would not be working behind it, but directly in front of it, at peril of getting wiped out blotto, thereby defeating its purpose-which is after all, motivational and as a hedge against the desolation of such a lonely endeavor” ~Terry Southern

“I don’t ask writers about their work habits. I really don’t care. Joyce Carol Oates says somewhere that when writers ask each other what time they start writing and when they finish, and how much time they take for lunch, they’re actually trying to find out, “Is he as crazy as I am?” – I don’t need that question answered” ~Philip Roth

Photograph of Susan Sontag from “The Writer’s Desk” by Jill Krementz ©1996

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