Quote of the month

I begin my novels knowing what happens. I write endings first. I write last sentences, sometimes last paragraphs first. I write collision course stories. There is always something coming that the reader anticipates.  What you can’t know is when and who the casualties and survivors will be, but you see the what. You know what’s coming…

Many of my wrestling friends find it odd that I’m a writer. Just as many of friends in the writing world find it odd that for so many years I was a wrestler and a wrestling coach. But they seem very similar to me. In both cases, you have to be devoted to tireless repetition and small details for many more hours than you will be in competition. You will be with a nameless workout partner, a sparring partner, drilling the same outside single leg dive, inside collar tie, hundreds upon thousands of times. Well, how many times as a writer should you rewrite the same sentence? The same paragraph? The same chapter? If you’re good you never tire of that.

I don’t intend to stop. Dropping dead at my desk sounds pretty good to me.

– John Irving, from interview on NPR

5 Responses to “Quote of the month”

  1. Nichole L. Reber

    If anyone ever suggests to me that writing isn’t worth the time or effort or education if it doesn’t pay millions I’m going to paraphrase Irving’s quote about dying at his desk. All I’ve come up with so far is that ‘I’ll write til I die. I’ve tried to stop and it won’t let me.’

    Cheers y saludos,

  2. The Professor

    Great advice. Always start at the end and work your way back. The end is the most important part of the story or art work.

    Mark Blasini

  3. Sean Crawford

    A variation on that, which I believe I got from John Gardner, is to write first, or rather write towards, the epiphany scene, the scene that makes fiction superior to nonfiction in that the lesson is stamped in, and thus retainable for longer than it would be by merely being told in an essay.

    Come to think of it, in some of my favourite essays, the right brain ones, the topic is a means to sneaking up on the thesis.
    An “essay” where both subject and thesis are in the first line is likely left brain, for school kids, and apt to be forgotten quickly.

  4. Sean Crawford

    For Nicole, below:
    Early in his career, when writer Robert Heinlein was socializing with other published writers, and mentioned making enough to retire some day, some one gently corrected him, saying something like, “Bob, you meet retired plumbers, retired businessmen, but you never meet retired writers.” I think he meant that once you start it is too much fun to quit.

    I remember a senior citizen who took a non-credit photography class at my community college. Afterwards, she said she was excited not from the camera but from learning to “see” differently.
    Travel writers like you see things that I would miss. If I want to have female or minority characters in my fiction then I need to come to see things that “real men” miss out on. To me this is quality of life.

    I agree with my fellow nerd, computer millionaire Paul Graham, that the friction of writing an essay causes me to learn things I didn’t already know when I began the essay. Again, this is quality of life for me.

  5. Scott Berkun

    Apparently Irving is not alone:

    “if I see an ending, I can work backwards” -Arthur Miller


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