Cover of book Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors

Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors

by: Sarah Stodola

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  • Genius, I have concluded, is the presence of not one ability but several that work together in tandem. Genius is far more tedious, far less romantic, far more rote, far less effortless, than we imagine it.
  • But in the place of perfection, they possess the quality of perseverance and a willingness to recognize their own shortcomings. F.
  • But Kafka also had impressive firsthand powers of observation, and
  • She also had to choose her priorities. “It’s not a bad thing to please a husband or a lover, but I couldn’t do that. It took up time and thought.”
  • The priorities rose effortlessly to the surface: being a good mother and being a good writer. She happily sacrificed everything else.
  • Early on, when working on a book, she got in the habit of rising at 4 a.m. to write uninterrupted until her children woke up, and after that, she headed to work.
  • After lunch, she admits she’s prone to taking a nap.
  • It turns out that bliss—a second-by-second joy + gratitude at the gift of being alive, conscious—lies on the other side of crushing, crushing boredom. Pay close attention to the most tedious thing you can find (tax returns, televised golf), and, in waves, a boredom like you’ve never known will wash over you and just about kill you. Ride these out, and it’s like stepping from black and white into color. Like water after days in the desert. Constant bliss in every atom.
  • “Technique can be cultivated,” she wrote to Teddy Roosevelt’s younger sister, Corinne Roosevelt Robinson, who at the time had a book of her own in the works, “and chiefly, I think, by reading only the best and rarest things, until one instinctively rejects the easy, accommodating form.”168
  • Armed with a confidence in his own abilities that bordered on hubris, Nabokov never wavered. Ironically, it was that very hubris (“I write like a genius”) that kept him steadily at work from one decade to the next.
  • His parents doted on him as the oldest child and instilled in him the boundless faith in his own abilities that would come in so handy later in life.
  • In a quite literal way, the writing comes before everything else, first thing every morning. “I’ve learned that I need to give it the first energy of the day, so before I read the newspaper, before I open the mail, before I phone anyone, often before I have a shower, I sit in my pajamas at the desk,”
  • While writing The Satanic Verses, for example, it was a note pinned to the wall above his desk that read: “To write a book is to make a Faustian contract in reverse. To gain immortality, or at least posterity, you lose, or at least ruin, your actual daily life.
  • She has said of herself as a writer that she is “so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests.”
  • Rivaling his talent with the written word was Hemingway’s knack for networking, which had as much to do with his success as anything. At