Saturday, September 02, 2006

Patricia Highsmith on Writing and Perseverance

Patricia Highsmith on writing and perseverance:

A book is not a thing of one sitting, like a poem, but a longish thing which takes time and energy, and since it takes skill, too, the first effort or maybe the second may not find a market. A writer should not think he is bad, or finished, if this happens, and of course writers with real drive will not. Every failure teaches something. You should have the feeling, as every experienced writer has, that there are more ideas where that one came from, more strength where the first strength came from, and that you are inexhaustible as long as you are alive. This requires an optimistic turn of mind, to say the least, and if you don’t have it by nature, it has to be created artificially. You have to talk yourself into it sometimes.

From Patricia Highsmith, Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction (1983).


Lee said...

Highsmith seems to have very little understanding of poetry.

Kate S. said...


I agree! I don't know many poets who regularly toss off a poem in one sitting as Highsmith implies. But I liked the bit about being "inexhaustible as long as you are alive" enough to post the quotation regardless.

j-love said...

I love the quote. I think I'll have to print that off and hang it above my desk, to remind me that my worries and frustrations are "normal" in this context and to minimize discouragement.

As for her comment on poetry, while that process contains its own trials, I do tend to agree with what she's saying. A long work of fiction can seem much more unmanageable and daunting than a poem, with little of the more immediate gratification I've experienced. I say this as someone with more experience in poetry than fiction, and a tendency to compare and contrast.

Thanks Kate for posting that encouraging passage!

Nancy said...

Oh, so glad for the remarks here about poetry, because that's what I was thinking. I've been known to write a poem in one sitting, but more often, I go back to them 3 years later and make them better. I have 2 lines of poetry I've been sitting with for 20 years (!!!) that I haven't found the right home for.

But the rest of what she says is great, and worth dwelling on.


Razovsky said...

Hey, Patricia Highsmith can say or do no wrong! I've written plenty of poems in one sitting. Probably most of 'em. Not to say there won't be some later tinkering. I suspect that Georges Simenon wrote some of his novels in one sitting!

Anyway, just because something may be written in one sitting, doesn't mean it's "tossed off." That sitting might be filled with pain, contradiction, conflict, and angst.


Kate S. said...


Fair enough! I didn't mean to suggest that "tossed off" and "in one sitting" are synonymous. I realize that a very fine short work can be produced that way. I've read that Delmore Schwartz's brilliant short story, "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities," was written in one sitting.

It was your enthusiasm for Patricia Highsmith that prompted me to pick up her book on writing and it's marvellous. Thanks for directing me to her!