Words: Wisdom on Writing

Friday, November 1, 2013

But he won't talk about his poems. He turns the conversation to that banal subject, fascinating to non-writers, of why writers write. Ego enchantment, sure. What else? Psychological imbalance? Neurosis? Trauma? And if trauma, how far can trauma go before it stops being stimulating and becomes destructive? Academic pressures to publish, do those mean anything? Not much, we agree. How about the reforming impulse, a passion for social justice?

Are writers reporters, prophets, crazies, entertainers, preachers, judges, what? Who appoints them as mouthpieces? If they appoint themselves, as they clearly do, how valid is the commission? If Time alone makes masterpieces, as Anatole France thought, then great writing is just trial and error tested by time, and if it's that, then above all it has to be free, it has to flow from the gift, not from outside pressures. The gift is its own justification, and there is no way of telling for sure, short of the appeal to posterity, whether it's really worth something or whether it's only the ephemeral expression of a fad or tendency, the articulation of a stereotype.

— Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner


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