Elizabeth Hardwick on “imaginative concentration”

ElizabethHardwick | AnnDalyWriter.com

ElizabethHardwick | AnnDalyWriter.com

Well, it’s Monday, and if I can trust the insight of Elizabeth Hardwick — and I do — I may have something worthwhile by Friday . . .

“Interviewer: Can you always arrive at the tone you want?

Hardwick:  No, I can’t, and when that happens I put the work aside. But I’ve noticed that the effort is always useful. I mostly use the things, sometime, somewhere, that I’ve abandoned. They’ve been worked on, exist, if only in a few pages — and the old yellow pages flaking away in a drawer turn out to be useful. I don’t know what I’m thinking about a particular thing until I have some kind of draft. It’s the actual execution that tells me what I want to say, what I always wanted to see when I started.

Interviewer:  What do you mean when you say that you don’t know what is in your mind until you’ve written it?

Hardwick:  I’m not sure I understand the process of writing. There is, I’m sure, something strange about imaginative concentration. The brain slowly begins to function in a different way, to make mysterious connections. Say, it is Monday, and you write a very bad draft, but if you keep trying, on Friday, words, phrases, appear almost unexpectedly. I don’t know why you can’ do it on Monday, or why I can’t. I’m the same person, no smarter, I have nothing more at hand.”

(From Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, edited by George Plimpton, 1986.)

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