Walter Mosley on writing: “The truth is, I never conceptualize a book before I start writing it. I always start with a first sentence like, “I was surprised to see a white man walk into Joppy’s Bar,” which is the beginning of DEVIL AND A BLUE DRESS.
I wrote that sentence. And the book I knew was in there, but I didn’t know what that book would be. But I know that I was confident enough in the language that I could follow it. I don’t ever know where I’m going. Because one of the wonderful things about writing, which is different than working in programming, you don’t need to know. You could just write and discover where you’re going. And it’s a great deal of fun.
Once you grab onto the that sentence, and it talks about a world that’s in somebody’s voice, it’s in a place and a time, that gives me the confidence to know that I can move on with it. And I can do that work. ‘I was surprised to see a white man walking into Joppy’s Bar.’ Well what does that mean? You have to find out more. But I know it in my heart where it’s going to go. Makes me happy.”
Yes, yes, yes.
Some time back, in O magazine, there was a rather long section devoted to writers and their process. The interviews were fascinating—Walter Mosley was there, as well as others. This from Jeffrey Eugenides, however, stayed with me—his response to the best thing about being a writer:
“The best thing is also the worst thing. It’s that, no matter how long you’ve been at it, you always start from scratch. Henry James said, ‘We work in the dark—we do what we can—we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.’ Unless you’re the kind of writer who works with a template, where the narrative strategies remain more or less constant and the job consists of filling in the boxes with new material, then what you have to do, with each new book, is discover all these things anew. Your material determines your narrative strategy and your tone of voice rather than the other way around. You change from book to book. You begin always knowing nothing. You remain forever an amateur, a first-timer.”
The grand adventure. Setting out on the road never traveled, never contemplated. Not simply hanging on, but instead yielding to the creative moment within. And if you find yourself blocked, stupefied, search out that place of joy in the story—make a place of joy in the story—and you will burn away the pain, the wall between you and the words. You will write, and you will go down into the abyss, and it will be good.