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Day 22/10/2012

Doris Lessing on Writing, Questions, Creativity & The Moments In Between

Celebrate author and 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature recipient Doris Lessing, who turns 93 today, with these quotes taken from a 1988 interview conducted by Thomas Frick for the Paris Review:

“I became a writer because of frustration, the way I think many writers do.”

“I think people are always looking for gurus. It’s the easiest thing in the world to become a guru. It’s quite terrifying. I once saw something fascinating here in New York. It must have been in the early seventies—guru time. A man used to go and sit in Central Park, wearing elaborate golden robes. He never once opened his mouth, he just sat. He’d appear at lunchtime. People appeared from everywhere, because he was obviously a holy man, and this went on for months. They just sat around him in reverent silence. Eventually he got fed up with it and left. Yes. It’s as easy as that.”

“If you write in bits, you lose some kind of very valuable continuity of form. It is an invisible inner continuity. Sometimes you only discover it is there if you are trying to reshape.”

“I see every book as a problem that you have to solve. That is what dictates the form you use. It’s not that you say, “I want to write a science fiction book.” You start from the other end, and what you have to say dictates the form of it.”

“Actually, I think I write much better if I’m flowing. You start something off, and at first it’s a bit jagged, awkward, but then there’s a point where there’s a click and you suddenly become quite fluent. That’s when I think I’m writing well. I don’t write well when I’m sitting there sweating about every single phrase.”

“It’s amazing what you find out about yourself when you write in the first person about someone very different from you.”

“I think a writer’s job is to provoke questions. I like to think that if someone’s read a book of mine, they’ve had—I don’t know what—the literary equivalent of a shower. Something that would start them thinking in a slightly different way perhaps. That’s what I think writers are for. This is what our function is. We spend all our time thinking about how things work, why things happen, which means that we are more sensitive to what’s going on.”

“I said to them, “Look, I want to do what I always do. I’ll read the story and then I’ll take questions.” They said, the way academics always do, “Oh you can’t expect our students to ask questions.” I said, “Look, just let me handle this, because I know how.””

Read the Interview in full over on The Paris Review ~ Doris Lessing, The Art of Fiction No. 102


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