Friday, December 11, 2009

Robert Caro on writing

Apparently I can't get enough of the whole "writers on writing" thing, so here are Robert Caro's thoughts from this month's Esquire (in the "What I've Learned" series). I haven't read his Robert Moses bio or Master of the Senate but I really liked The Path to Power.

  • Always type out your interviews before you go to bed, so you remember the expressions.
  • Research is fun. Writing is hard.
  • It's so easy to fool yourself into thinking that you're working hard. It's so easy not to write. So you use any trick you can to make yourself know there's work to be done. That's why I wear a jacket and tie when I sit down to write.
  • Every time one of my books comes out, profiles mention that I write on a typewriter that hasn't been manufactured in twenty-five years. And people send me their old Smith-Corona 210's for free. I used to have seventeen spares to cannibalize the parts. I'm down to eleven.
  • Hemingway said, "Always quit for the day when you know what the next sentence is going to be." I do that.
  • There is no bullshit with books. What's on the page is what's on the page. It's either good enough to last or it's not.
  • I live near Columbia, and I see a lot of college students. My best moment was seeing one of these kids carrying Master of the Senate. I could never ask him if he liked it. What if he said "Mehhh, it's not so great. I have to read it for class"? That would kill me. So I never do that.

    AliceAcademic said...

    Your posts on writing are always so inspiring.

    I love the "writers on writing" thing too. I think I secretly wish that if I use the same quadrille- ruled note book and fountain pen, sit down at the same time of day with the same beverage as my favorite authors, I will produce even remotely similar results.

    undine said...

    AliceAcademic, I feel exactly the same way in reading about the way writers write. Somehow, if I do what they do, I keep thinking it'll get easier, although I drew the line at Caro's suitcoat and tie.

    Bavardess said...

    I'm another who loves reading writers on writing. Unfortunately, I sometimes use the reading as a way to procrastinate my own writing! I love the nugget here about the typewriters.

    undine said...

    I do, too, Bavaradess, and I tried to get a picture of the typewriter but couldn't find a good one. I don't know how he does it, if it's a manual typewriter; my fingers get tired.

    Anonymous said...

    I think I've finally gotten it. You shouldn't write before you're ready, yet at the same time you have to keep producing. How to square this circle = more time per day getting ready (if you're not writing), and that means reading and organizing notes with a purpose or intention toward a piece of your project (not the whole thing, except insofar as the part is the whole). That means being able to protect that time, and put another fence of time around it. That, in turn, just means that research has to always be #1 (after food, sleep, recreation and exercise, of course).

    Now, of course, I have always known these things. The question is how to fit it into an academic job. At one time I had this figured out, but I am rediscovering it.

    (I I were to tweet now, I would tweet "just keep on writing" but that is only because said advice really does correspond to the present situation.)