As Dubus put it in my interview with him, “I think most writers quit between the ages of twenty and thirty for various reasons. They are alone then unless they have exceptional parents; even if they have very loving and tolerant parents, they still know in their heart of hearts that their parents wonder about what in the fuck they are doing. Unless they live in a community of writers, like at a graduate school, they don’t have friends who really understand what they are doing. They don’t get published. They work and of course, don’t get money for it. There is no one to set the alarm clock for. There is no one who cares whether they get there to work, no one who can threaten them with firing or reward them with money, and you put all that on one poor young man or woman’s back, and it takes an awful lot of courage, because it comes down to that person believing in him or herself and saying, I will do it. While having a job that supports me. And you finally do publish in something as lovely as Tendril or Ploughshares, for example, and you call your mother or father and tell them, and they say, ‘What’s that?’ I think that is why young writers can be persuaded so easily to change things to be in The New Yorker. Not for the goddamn money. What’s three thousand dollars going to do? You can’t live in Mexico on it and write. Not for long anyway. Won’t change your life. I think they do it because it takes care of those blank faces when you say, ‘Yes, I’ve published,’ and they say, ‘Where?’ and you say, The New Yorker, and they say, ‘Ooh! You must be real!’ “
I used to have students who bragged to me about how fast they wrote their papers. I would tell them that the great German novelist Thomas Mann said that a writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. The best writers write much more slowly than everyone else, and the better they are, the slower they write. James Joyce wrote Ulysses, the greatest novel of the 20th century, at the rate of about a hundred words a day—half the length of the selection I read you earlier from Heart of Darkness—for seven years. T. S. Eliot, one of the greatest poets our country has ever produced, wrote about 150 pages of poetry over the course of his entire 25-year career. That’s half a page a month. So it is with any other form of thought. You do your best thinking by slowing down and concentrating.
• I know this video has been all over the blogging world world, but I’m sure not everyone has seen it. Even if you’re not a writer you’ll think it’s funny. The guy in the video is an author named Dennis Cass and his book is called Head Case. The video is of him talking to his publicist on the phone.
• Advice to poets from Canyon Press. “1. Write when you feel moved to, in response to some inner necessity, or when provoked by something in the outside world. If it is of help, set yourself a working schedule, but do not attempt to force your talent; let it develop at its own pace. You are not entering a competition or a popularity contest.”
• The future of the book.
• Roth’s unsent letter to a critique.