The Observatory

The Truth Shall Set You Laughing

Jeremiah Horrigan

Jeremiah Horrigan
New Paltz, New York, USA
February 04
Working Copy
Former Knight of the Altar, St. Martin's parish in South Buffalo, NY. Old enough to remember ducking-and-covering from the nukes that Sister Jeanne assured us were coming our way, defending Santa Claus until age 10, hating playing sports, wanting to fly, escaping to Westchester County for three years, re-escaping to Buffalo for most of high school, escaping to Fordham U long enough to drop out, escaping school, getting political, getting arrested, getting tried, convicted and released for crimes against the draft. Husband to Patty, father to Grady and Annie. Housepainter, cab driver, idiot, then newspaper reporter in Poughkeepsie, years of freelancing (Sports Illustrated, New York Times, Negligent Mother Magazine) and shameful indulgence, followed finally by 18 more years of reporting, column-writing, some awards, discoveries large and small along the way, including these: Sister Jeanne was full of beans, writing is good for the soul and I'm the luckiest man alive.


Jeremiah Horrigan's Links
JANUARY 2, 2012 12:07PM

Writers on writing: some hard-fought wisdom for a new year

Rate: 14 Flag

A new year is upon us, and if, as it seems to me, the future looks bleak at times, then there’s no better time to look to the past for inspiration and insight.

Writers in particular can draw on what must be the deepest well of inspiration – the words of other writers.  Lives there a writer anywhere who can keep him or herself from writing about the craft itself? 

Here then is a short list of writers writing about writing. It’s far from complete. I welcome any additions you may offer, be they uttered by the famous or the forgotten.

So, with wishes for a useful and exciting new year, a list of some words to write and live by – if there’s a difference:

Every morning between nine and 12 I go to my room and sit before a piece of paper. Many times I just sit there for three hours with no ideas coming to me. But I know one thing: if an idea does come between nine and 12, I am there ready for it. – Flannery O’Connor.

If I don’t sit down practically immediately after breakfast, I won’t sit down all day. – Graham Greene

To be a writer is to sit down at one’s desk in the chill portion of every day, and to write. – John Hersey

Two simple rules: A) You don't have to write. B) You can't do anything else. -- Raymond Chandler

The writing generates the writing. – E. L. Doctorow

There is no one right way. Each of us finds a way that works for him. But there is a wrong way. The wrong way is to finish your writing day with no more words on paper than when you began. Writers write. -- Robert B. Parker

A day in which I don’t write leaves a taste of ashes. – Simone de Beauvoir

If you keep working, inspiration comes. – Alexander Calder

To write you have to set up a routine, to promise yourself that you will write. Just state in a loud voice that you will write so many pages in a day, or write for so many hours a day. Keep the number of pages or hours within reason, and don’t be upset if a day slips by. Start again, pick up the routine. Don’t look for results. Just write, easily, quietly. – Janwillem van de Wetering

Perfect is the enemy of good. -- John Jerome

If you want to take a year off to write a book, you have to take that year or the year will take you by the hair and pull you toward the grave . . . you can take your choice. You can keep a tidy house and when St. Peter  asks you what you did with your life, I kept a tidy house. I made my own cheese balls. – Annie Dillard

The art of the novel is getting the whole thing written.  -- Leonard Gardner

I believe the so-called “writing block” is a product of some kind of disproportion between your standards and your performance . . .  one should lower his standards until there is no felt threshold to go over in writing. It’s easy to write.  You just shouldn’t have standards that inhibit you from writing. – William Stafford

The swiftly done work of the journalist, and the cheap finish and ready-made methods to which it leads, you must try to copunteract in private by writing with the most considerate slowness and on the most ambitious models. And when I say "writing," it is re-writing that I have chiefly in mind. -- Robert Louis Stevenson

If it sounds like writing, I re-write it. -- Elmore Leonard 

Nulla dies sine linea (Never a day without a line) - Horace.

Life is hard. It’s writing that’s easy. – E. Annie Proulx

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Thanks for the tips. I like Elmore's.
Thanks - just what I need to hear at the start of an ambitious new year!

some good ones not often quoted, like Stafford. They put you in a box for one reason or other then it takes other "writers" who know what it is to dig your way out. all while you are dead and the only beneficiaries are other writers.
Inspirational. I need some of these in needlepoint along the walls of my office.
These were all brilliant. A gift to all of us. And God I miss Robert Parker!

But there is an incredibly important message that runs through all of these: and that is that INSPIRATION is what matters most to a writer.

I know that sounds banal. But a lot of people think that the way to get better is to be "critiqued"--- which is often code for someone telling you what they think is wrong with your writing.

I'm not talking about that inspirational magic that happens when you work with a great editor. I have a piece up right now that was brilliantly edited and I'm a better writer because of it.

I'm talking about the misguided notion that one adult can make another adult better by telling them to change something they don't like. Or worse yet---to write differently then you write.

60 years of hard data on adult education and positive psychology (Daniel Kahneman or Clifton or Tom Rath in a book called Strengthsfinder 2.0 which has been on the NY Times best seller list for years back up the idea that fixing weaknesses doesn't work) The simple truth is that the way to help someone do better is to focus on their strengths.

It is a very radical idea. But its true.

A mentor of mine once wrote: (In a book called "First, Break All the Rules") "Don't try to put in what was left out. Draw out what was left in. That is hard enough." (Paraphrased)

Inspire then encourage a strength. That is a gift---just like the one you gave here.
Thank you for this inspirational reflection and the quotations that accompany. I like them all, and would like to share one among the many I like:

"I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter."
~James Michener~

I have tacked over my work station at the paper (which is not where I am at the moment, so forgive me if I mangle the quote) this from Red Smith, a sportswriter:

"There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein."
"Writing is rewriting" is something I remember, but don't remember who said it. (William Zinnser?)
Many thanks, Jeremiah. They're all good. My favorite is Doctorow's. I'm printing this one out, along with Chicago Guy's comment.
Damon: I didn't realize it when I copped it, is his summary of his "Ten Rules for Writers." #10 is, I think, my favorite: "Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip." His book -- though hardly more than an essay -- packs a wallop, just like everything else he writes.

Alan: Ambition may be the ingredient I need most to work on this year. And next. Good luck in your endeavors.

Ben: I'm not sure I follow, but thanks for stopping by.

Bell: Don't tell me you do needlepoint too.
Whoo, Roger. Talk about inspiration. This is what I love about OS -- what begins as monologue can and frequently does become dialogue; initial ideas can be expanded on in unexpected and welcome ways. And whoever reads the result -- I don't know what to call it -- benefits and can do it themselves all over again. MOst of the writers listed above didn't have this sort of "response-ability" available to them.

To me, this is better than a writing group, in that we get to comment on each other's posts without time constraint, after taking time to mull over and then -- best of all -- write our responses.

So not only is your comment an example of this wonderful ride but you bring some hard data to the conversation, giving us all not just more to explore and chew on. For myself, I completely agree with the idea of focussing not only on a writer's strengths but also a child's, a spouse's, a friend's or an employee's.

Yes, and here's to editors who listen and and use their hearts to read as well as their blue pencils.

Many thanks.
Thanks for the inspiration, Jeremiah - and you too, Chicago Guy -
Thanks for the jumpstart, time to get back to the novel. I always go a little crazy when I'm not writing...
No better way to start off the new year than feeling some camaraderie with the likes of those you've mentioned. Thanks for the lift.
Fusan: That's been my mantra for a long time -- "writing is rewriting." And that's one of the pleasures i think writing affords -- the chance to say something better, more concisely, more sharply. Sometimes I wish I had the same opportunity to revise the words I speak.

High: That's also a favorite of mine and I believe you've got it right. Red Smith is one of those sportswriters who transcended the cliches and traps of his calling. If he bled, he didn't let on. Like the best of them, he made it look easy.

My pleasure, Matt. I'm a long-time met Doctorow fan, going back to "Welcome to Hard Times," which movie version he once described as the worst Western ever made. When I met him at a book reading many moons ago, the film adaptation of "Ragtime" had been out a while. I asked him how he liked it. He gave me that antic grin you see on some of his portraits and said "It's a good movie of a great novel." And he was right.

Lea: I did a cursory search for the author of that very potent saying and I'm sure Zinsser would endorse it. I'm not sure he originated it, but God bless whoever did.
My pleasure Marlene.

Suzie: I hope you don't forget to post hereabouts. Consider it a public service.

Steve: And no better time for a lift, eh?
Bless you for this. :) r.