Thursday, September 13, 2012

More on Writers' Practices

This post is a follow-up to my earlier post of June 24 on writers’ work habits.

John Cheever
After the Second World War, John Cheever, who was to become one of the country’s great short story writers, moved with his family to an apartment building at 400 East 59th Street, near Sutton Place, Manhattan.  For much of his life, Cheever would be self-conscious over his lack of education and what was considered at the time a suitable vocation. At this point in his career, his writing had not yet earned him much money, and he could afford only one suit. In the mornings, to keep up appearances, he put on the suit and rode the building’s elevator downstairs, along with the address’s other lawyers and stockbrokers. But Cheever took the elevator all the way to a windowless room in the basement, where he worked alone in a kind of makeshift office. Not wanting to muss the suit, he hung it on a hanger and sat dressed in his boxer shorts to write until nightfall, when he put the suit back on and rode the elevator back upstairs to his apartment.

Thomas Wolfe
Thomas Wolfe wrote his first novel, Look Homeward, Angel, in the late 1920s in a basement apartment facing an alleyway in Brooklyn. He wrote in longhand in ledgers made of sheets of yellow paper. At six foot, five inches, Wolfe felt uncomfortable at a desk, so he wrote standing up, using the top of an old refrigerator for a desk. For the first draft, he wrote nearly four million words, which his editor, Maxwell Perkins, advised him to cut to 250,000.

Ray Bradbury
In Los Angeles in the early 1950s, Ray Bradbury was looking for a quiet place to write, away from his home and two young rambunctious children. He was too poor to afford an office of his own. In the basement of the Lawrence Clark Powell Library of UCLA, he found a room with typewriters that could be rented for 10 cents per half hour. Bradbury went to a nearby bank and returned with a bag of dimes. There, in a building filled with books, he began to write a novel about a future world where books were banned. After nine days, and $9.80 in dimes, he finished Fahrenheit 451.

Joseph Heller
From the Associated Press, June 18, 2012
“Heller’s Writing Tools Showcased”

Students more accustomed to computer screens than manual typewriters are getting a chance to sit at author Joseph Heller’s desk and type on the Smith-Corona he used to compose his acclaimed novel Catch-22An exhibit at a University of South Carolina library displays the desk, typewriter, and lamp used by Heller. The university library has one of the largest collections of his papers, manuscripts and other memorabilia available to researchers, library officials said. “We acquired this with the expectation that students would type on the typewriter and experience sitting at his desk,” said Elizabeth Suddeth of the Ernest F. Hollings Library.

Friedrich Nietzsche
From: “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicholas Carr, The Atlantic, July/August 2008

Sometime in 1882, Friedrich Nietzsche bought a typewriter—a Malling-Hansen Writing Ball, to be precise. His vision was failing, and keeping his eyes focused on a page had become exhausting and painful, often bringing on crushing headaches. He had been forced to curtail his writing, and he feared that he would soon have to give it up. The typewriter rescued him, at least for a time. Once he had mastered touch-typing, he was able to write with his eyes closed, using only the tips of his fingers. Words could once again flow from his mind to the page.

But the machine had a subtler effect on his work. One of Nietzsche’s friends, a composer, noticed a change in the style of his writing. His already terse prose had become even tighter, more telegraphic. “Perhaps you will through this instrument even take to a new idiom,” the friend wrote in a letter, noting that, in his own work, his “‘thoughts’ in music and language often depend on the quality of pen and paper.”

“You are right,” Nietzsche replied, “our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.” Under the sway of the machine, writes the German media scholar Friedrich A. Kittler, Nietzsche’s prose “changed from arguments to aphorisms, from thoughts to puns, from rhetoric to telegram style.”




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