Literary Birthday - 26 September - Will Self

Happy Birthday, Will Self, born 26 September 1961

10 Will Self Quotes

  1. As a bookish adolescent, I sopped up texts as if I were blotting paper and they were fluid.
  2. A creative life cannot be sustained by approval any more than it can be destroyed by criticism.
  3. The high arts of literature and music stand in a curious relationship to one another, at once securely comfortable and deeply uneasy - rather like a long-term marriage.
  4. I always wanted to write fiction. Always. As far back as I can remember it’s been integral to my sense of myself - everything else was always a displacement activity.
  5. I prefer to write first drafts as soon as possible after waking, so that the oneiric inscape is still present to me.
  6. Once the working classes were in chains, now they’re in chain restaurants.
  7. From time to time, as if heaven-sent to annoy, someone will ask me if I’m self-disciplined when it comes to my work. I usually look witheringly at them and snarl, ‘What do you think?’ I mean, how do you imagine anyone writes a quarter of a million words a year for publication?
  8. I’m an anarchist. I’m implacably opposed to heirarchical systems of power and control. I also mistrust crowds, as they often operate according to their lowest common denominator. In terms of evolutionary psychology, the crowd is very close to a herd of stampeding wildebeest.
  9. I think of writing as a sculptural medium. You are not building things. You are removing things, chipping away at language to reveal a living form. 
  10. A final word. Curious. Many years of reading many books has led me to a somewhat bizarre literary critical theory, namely that all significant texts are distinguished by the preponderance of a single word. In Alice’s adventures in Wonderland that word is ‘curious’ (In The Brothers Karamazov it’s ‘ecstasy’, but that needn’t concern us here.) The word ‘curious’ appears so frequently in Carroll’s text that it becomes a kind of tocsin awakening us from our reverie. But it isn’t the strangeness of Alice’s Wonderland that it reminds us of-it’s the bizarre incomprehensibility of our own.

Will Self - On Writing

  1. Don’t look back until you’ve written an entire draft, just begin each day from the last sentence you wrote the preceding day. This prevents those cringing feelings, and means that you have a substantial body of work before you get down to the real work which is all in …
  2. The edit.
  3. Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever.
  4. Stop reading fiction – it’s all lies anyway, and it doesn’t have anything to tell you that you don’t know already (assuming, that is, you’ve read a great deal of fiction in the past; if you haven’t you have no business whatsoever being a writer of fiction).
  5. You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished.
  6. Live life and write about life. Of the making of many books there is ­indeed no end, but there are more than enough books about books.
  7. By the same token remember how much time people spend watching TV. If you’re writing a novel with a contemporary setting there need to be long passages where nothing happens save for TV watching: “Later, George watched Grand Designs while eating HobNobs. Later still he watched the shopping channel for a while …”
  8. The writing life is essentially one of solitary confinement – if you can’t deal with this you needn’t apply.
  9. Oh, and not forgetting the occasional beating administered by the sadistic guards of the imagination.
  10. Regard yourself as a small corporation of one. Take yourself off on team-building exercises (long walks). Hold a Christmas party every year at which you stand in the corner of your writing room, shouting very loudly to yourself while drinking a bottle of white wine. Then masturbate under the desk. The following day you will feel a deep and cohering sense of embarrassment.

This advice first appeared in The Guardian

Self is an English author, journalist and television personality. He has written nine novels, five collections of shorter fiction, three novellas and five collections of non-fiction writing. His best-known novel Umbrella was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

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