Monday, December 16, 2013

Harper Lee on Writing

Now, if you were to give advice to the talented youngster who wants to carve a career as a creative writer, what would that advice be?
Lee: Well, the first advice I would give is this: hope for the best and expect nothing. Then you won't be disappointed. You must come to terms with yourself about your writing. You must not write "for" something; you must not write with definite hopes of reward.

Young people today, especially the college kids, scare me to death. They say they are going to be writers. Their attitude is, "I'm going to write it, and because I write it, it's going to be great, it's going to be published and make me great."

Well, I've got news for them. (You must think I regard writing as something like the medieval priesthood—and sometimes I wish our government could see its way clear to support our writers on bread and water and shut them up in a monastery somewhere.) People who write for reward by way of recognition or monetary gain don't know what they're doing. They're in the category of those who write; they are not writers.

Writing is simply something you must do. It's rather like virtue in that it is its own reward. Writing is selfish and contradictory in its terms. First of all, you're writing for an audience of one, you must please the one person you're writing for. I don't believe this business of "No, I don't write for myself, I write for the public." That's nonsense. Any writer worth his salt writes to please himself. He writes not to communicate with other people, but to communicate more assuredly with himself. It's a self-exploratory operation that is endless. An exorcism of not necessarily his demon, but of his divine discontent.

Of course, he gets his material from the world around him. He's on the inside looking out, yet at the same time he has to stand away from it and look inward.  I'm making no sense, I'm sure. But writing is the one form of art and endeavor that you cannot do for an audience. Painters paint, and their pictures go on the wall, musicians play, actors act for an audience, but I think writers write for themselves, and this attitude of "I'm going to write and be great just because I write" is where most young people fool themselves.

Another way they fool themselves is when they study to be writers. They are training themselves, in colleges, to be writers. Well, my dear young people, writing is something you'll neve learn in any university or at any school. It's something that is within you, and if it isn't there, nothing can put it there. But if you are really serious about writing, if you really feel you must write, I would suggest that you follow the advice the Reverend John Keble gave a friend who asked him how to get his faith back. "By holy living."

Further Reading of the interview...check out suggested titles at the end
Tobacco Sticks...Southern Courtroom Drama


Books by William Hazelgrove