Tag Archives: Writers

How Writers Write

THERE IS an enormous store of narrative concerning the working habits of authors, much of it interesting and in my case consumed with amusement but skepticism also.

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The Protestant Work Ethic Versus This Bottle of Wine

Years ago an upstart magazine based in a smallish Ontario city/biggish Ontario town asked me to write an article for the premiere issue. I wrote the article and got paid a small honorarium, but the magazine itself collapsed before even the first edition was printed. No one has ever read that article.

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When the Bookish Finish Last

There is a famous anecdote concerning two nineteenth-century British Prime Ministers and bitter rivals, Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone. The former may be credited with first articulating “Progressive Conservatism” — by way of his 1844 novel Coningsby, or The New Generation — and the latter with both establishing and dominating the British Liberal Party, having ended his affiliation to the High Tories. According to the standard account, Gladstone asserted (doubtless with approval) “I predict, Sir, that you will die either by hanging or of some vile disease.” Disraeli’s response was characteristically immediate, biting, and witty: “That all depends, sir, upon whether I embrace your principles or your mistress.”

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The Compulsion to Write (pt. 3)


ALTHOUGH I KNEW at a young age that I should be a writer, little else would be sorted out until many years later, and then often by accident. When I was a child, say, ten to thirteen years old, I had only vague ideas about what a writer even was. I suppose I imagined a cold and dark room and a gaunt person at a desk, producing poems and novels, posting them to publishers who would promptly send back letters which read Thank-you, but no thank-you. In time I would have a more informed picture of a writer’s existence, having learned that publishers in fact do not send these letters, or any other, promptly.

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The Compulsion to Write (pt. 2)

In his essay, “Why I Write,” George Orwell identifies the following: 1. Sheer Egoism (“desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc”), 2. Aesthetic enthusiasm (“perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their arrangement”) 3. Historical impulse (“desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity”), and 4. Political purpose (“desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that they should strive after”). Knowing that I would be writing this essay, I tried to improve upon this list, but to no success. There is only one conceivable addition, approaching the matter as a male heterosexual writer: 5. To bed women. Continue reading The Compulsion to Write (pt. 2)

The Compulsion to Write (pt. 1)

Illustration by Anthony Russo

I was eight years old and urinating in the bathroom of my parents’ Central Avenue house when the precise words manifesting a desire to fill my life with writing first came into my conscious mind. Why this thought occurred to me at so late a date, I am unable to say. Continue reading The Compulsion to Write (pt. 1)