waiting for inspiration

On the jacket of Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler, edited by Frank McShane:  “I don’t know why the hell I write so many letters.  I guess my mind is just too active for its own good.”

Excerpt from March 18, 1949 letter to Alex Barris:

. . . What do I do with myself from day to day?  I write when I can and I don’t write when I can’t; always in the morning or the early part of the day.  You get very gaudy ideas at night but they don’t stand up.  I found this out long ago.  I haven’t been with Paramount for a couple of years and am not under contract to any studio, thank God.  I feel about Hollywood just about as I did when I wrote that piece, [Philip Marlowe] and I don’t see why any writer should feel any different, although there could be more genial ways of expressing it.  But the people who make pictures are not all idiots.  They just behave as if they were.

. . . I’m always seeing little pieces by writers about how they don’t ever wait for inspiration; they just sit down at their little desks every morning at eight, rain or shine, hangover and broken arm and all, and bang out their little stint.  However blank their minds or dull their wits, no nonsense about inspiration from them.  I offer them my admiration and take care to avoid their books.  Me, I wait for inspiration, although I don’t necessarily call it by that name.  I believe that all writing that has any life in it is done with the solar plexus.  It is hard work in the sense that it may leave you tired, even exhausted.  in the sense of conscious effort it is not work at all. The important thing is that there should be a space of time, say four hours a day at least, when a professional writer doesn’t do anything else but write.  He doesn’t have to write, and if he doesn’t feel like it, he shouldn’t try.  He can look out of the window or stand on his head or writhe on the floor.  But he is not to do any other positive thing, not read, write letters, glance at magazines, or write checks.  Either write or nothing.  It’s the same principle as keeping order in a school.  If you make the pupils behave, they will learn something just to keep from being bored.  I find it works.  Two very simple rules, a. you don’t have to write, b. you can’t do anything else.  The rest comes of itself.


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