John Irving (b. March 2nd): “You’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed.”

2 Mar

John Irving, born 2 March 1942, is an American novelist and Academy Award-winning screenwriter. His novels include The World According to GarpA Widow for One YearThe Cider House Rules, and A Prayer for Owen Meany. Five of his novels have been adapted to film. He won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Cider House Rules.

Quotes on writing

  1. Half my life is an act of revision. 
  2. You’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed. 
  3. I’m old-fashioned, a storyteller. I’m not an analyst and I’m not an intellectual.
  4. The building of the architecture of a novel – the craft of it – is something I never tire of.
  5. I’ve always preferred writing in longhand. I’ve always written first drafts in longhand.
  6. I write very quickly; I rewrite very slowly. It takes me nearly as long to rewrite a book as it does to get the first draft.
  7. Writing a novel is actually searching for victims. As I write I keep looking for casualties. The stories uncover the casualties. 
  8. I am compulsive about writing, I need to do it the way I need sleep and exercise and food and sex; I can go without it for a while, but then I need it.
  9. The way you define yourself as a writer is that you write every time you have a free minute. If you didn’t behave that way you would never do anything.
  10. I don’t begin a novel or a screenplay until I know the ending. And I don’t mean only that I have to know what happens. I mean that I have to hear the actual sentences. I have to know what atmosphere the words convey. 
  11. When I was still in prep school – 14, 15 – I started keeping notebooks, journals. I started writing, almost like landscape drawing or life drawing. I never kept a diary, I never wrote about my day and what happened to me, but I described things. 
  12. I am not attracted to writers by style. What style do Dickens, Grass, and Vonnegut have in common? How silly! I am attracted to what makes them angry, what makes them passionate, what outrages them, what they applaud and find sympathetic in human beings and what they detest about human beings, too. They are writers of great emotional range.
  13. You bet I write disaster fiction. We have compiled a disastrous record on this planet, a record of stupidity and absurdity and self-abuse and self-aggrandizement and self-deception and pompousness and self-righteousness and cruelty and indifference beyond what any other species has demonstrated the capacity for, which is the capacity for all the above.
  14. Along the (writing) way accidents happen, detours get taken… But these are not “divine” accidents; I don’t believe in those. I believe you have constructive accidents en route through a novel only because you have mapped a clear way. If you have confidence that you have a clear direction to take, you always have confidence to explore other ways; if they prove to be mere digressions, you’ll recognize that and make the necessary revisions. The more you know about a book, the freer you can be to fool around. The less you know, the tighter you get.

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