Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Good Advice from One of Our Finest Writers

In an essay called "Gone So Long," James Sallis gives some advice for writers that you don't often see. He says: "Write about the things that hurt you, write about the things you don't understand." This sounds easy, but I'll tell you it's not. Especially the first part, the "hurt" part. I've tried, in a slightly different way.

In writing horror, I always heard, "Write about what scares you," but I've always struggled in doing so because those things are so personal. I'm not personally afraid of vampires and werewolves, or invasions from outer space. I'm afraid of losing my son, of losing my health. I'm not particularly afraid to die; I'm afraid to suffer.

What hurts and scares you also defines you. These things are at your core, and they do not want to be dredged up. They will fight you tooth and nail. But Jim's advice is good. I believe that. I believe I should do precisely what he says.

Damn it's hard.

2 comments:

Sidney said...

It reminds me also of a Kafka quote about reading: "I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us."

Stewart Sternberg said...

I have actually received messages from two other bloggers who read this post and have given some thought to the matter.

I think often about the purpose of writing. What happens when people write to excise an inner demon? Does that writing have a richer texture and more profound integrity than someone who picks a theme and then attempts to explore that theme, not necessarily from personal crisis?

Of course, one can argue that the idea of writing from inner pain and conflict is a way of writing about what we know, the old addage that writing about what is familiar is how we maintain our integrity as writers.