What Faulkner Had to Say About Writing

Amanda Patterson has a post on the Writer’s Write website on the ten comments William Faulkner made about writing.

Ms Patterson, on her Twitter site says, “I love books. I always carry two with me – one to write in and one to read.”

William Faulkner was an American writer, who died in 1962. He is a Nobel Prize winner who wrote primarily about the South. He offered plenty of advice to young writers in 1957 and 1958, when he was a writer-in-residence at the University of Virginia. His lectures and public talks were recorded and can heard at the university’s Faulkner audio archive. He was also interviewed extensively over the years.

William Faulkner
  1. Don’t be ‘a writer’ but instead be writing. Being ‘a writer’ means being stagnant. The act of writing shows movement, activity, life. When you stop moving, you’re dead. It’s never too soon to start writing, as soon as you learn to read. (The Daily Princetonian, 1958)
  2. I think it best to use as little dialect as possible because it confuses people who are not familiar with it. That nobody should let the character speak completely in his own vernacular. It’s best indicated by a few simple, sparse but recognisable touches. (From What’s the Good Word?)
  3. Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad; see how they do it. When a carpenter learns his trade, he does so by observing. Read! You’ll absorb it. Write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window. (The Western Review)
  4. I would say to get the character in your mind. Once he is in your mind, and he is right, and he’s true, then he does the work himself. All you need to do then is to trot along behind him and put down what he does and what he says… You’ve got to know the character. You’ve got to believe in him. You’ve got to feel that he is alive… After that, the business of putting him down on paper is mechanical. (From a University of Virginia graduate class in American fiction)
  5. [A good novelist] must never be satisfied with what he does. It never is as good as it can be done. Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself. (From an interview in Paris Review)
  6. The real truths come from human hearts. Don’t try to present your ideas to the reader. Instead, try to describe your characters as you see them. Take something from one person you know, something from another, and you yourself create a third person that people can look at and see something they understand. (The Daily Princetonian, 1958)
  7. For [writing] fiction the best age is from thirty-five to forty-five. Your fire is not all used up and you know more. Fiction is slower. For poetry the best age is from seventeen to twenty-six. Poetry writing is more like a skyrocket with all your fire condensed into one rocket.” (From an interview with The Western Review in 1947)
  8. A writer needs three things, experience, observation, and imagination—any two of which, at times any one of which—can supply the lack of the others. (From an interview in Paris Review)
  9. You can always find time to write. Anybody who says he can’t is living under false pretences. To that extent depend on inspiration. Don’t wait. When you have an inspiration put it down. Don’t wait until later and when you have more time and then try to recapture the mood and add flourishes. You can never recapture the mood with the vividness of its first impression. (From an interview with The Western Review in 1947)
  10. Probably any story that can’t be told in one sentence or at least one paragraph is not worth writing. (University of Virginia Q&A)

I think there are some very good points here. I particularly like his comments about bringing characters to life before writing about them. His comments about just trying to be better than yourself, and the one-sentence story make a lot of sense.

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