Life

“You don’t really start start off: It’s time to write a novel, what shall I write about? Now, there may be instances—Hollywood or some commercial writing—where the writer is that objective. But I don’t think most writers, good or bad, work that way. They tend to have a lot of stories available to them just because they are human beings. Anybody here knows a lot of stories—whether he knows he knows them or not, he knows them. Now, when a writer decides on one of the many stories he has encountered, he doesn’t just say: I’ll take the third from the left. He sees his material in terms of a type of story that somehow catches hold of him, like a cockleburr in his hair. Why it’s this story instead of that one that he picks to work on may be accidental, but waiving that consideration, it’s really because it has a germ of meaning for him personally. An observation or an event snags on to an issue in your own mind, feelings, life—some probably unformulated concern that makes the exploration of the connection between that thing and the issue rewarding. This can happen without your being conscious of why some particular scene makes it happen.”

—Robert Penn Warren, interview with Frank Gado, 1966.

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