Think you’re ruthless enough to be a writer? Here’s how Faulkner did it.
April 24, 2013
It was the golden era of writing that came and went and we will never see again.
Take a look at William Faulkner
He loved to read. He never thought about writing.
In high school, he spent too much time reading and too little time with his classes. He did not earn enough credits to graduate.
Faulkner spent a few months at the University of Mississippi, then quit and worked as a postmaster at the university station.
He was fired.
He spent too much time reading on the job.
So how did William Faulkner enter the world of writing?
He once told this story to the Paris Review:
I was living in New Orleans, doing whatever kind of work was necessary to earn a little money now and then. I met Sherwood Anderson. We would walk about the city in the afternoon and talk to people. In the evenings we would meet again and sit over a bottle or two while he talked and I listened.
In the forenoon, I would never see him. He was secluded, working. The next day we would repeat. I decided that if that was the life of a writer, then becoming a writer was the thing for me.
So I began to write my first book. At once I found that writing was fun. I even forgot that I hadn’t seen Mr. Anderson for three weeks until he walked in my door, the first time ever came to see me, and said, “What’s wrong? Are you mad at me?”
I told him I was writing a book.
He said, “My God,” and walked out.
When I finished the book – it was Soldier’s Pay – I met Mrs. Anderson on the street. She asked how the book was going, and I said I’d finished it.
She said, “Sherwood says that he will make a trade with you. If he doesn’t have to read your manuscript, he will tell his publisher to accept it.”
I said, “Done,” and that’s how I became a writer.
And what are Faulkner’s thoughts on being a writer?
What formula did he follow to become a good novelist?
It’s ninety-nine percent talent … ninety-nine percent discipline … ninety-nine percent work. He must never be satisfied with what he does. It never is as good as it can be done. Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself. An artist is a creature driven by demons. He doesn’t know why they choose him, and he’s usually too busy to wonder why. He is completely amoral in that he will rob, borrow, beg, or steal from anybody and everybody to get the work done.
Did that mean a writer had to be ruthless?
Faulkner didn’t blink. He said;
The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate. The “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is worth any number of old ladies.
Agree with Faulkner.
Or disagree with him.
It doesn’t matter.
The master had spoken.