Last month, after reading The Names by Don Delillo, I was sorry to leave his head. I went googling about to find more bits of him, and found an extraordinary conversation he had with the Paris Review.
I'm fascinated by the process of art, and was delighted to have a chance to peek through his window:
"Discarded pages mark the physical dimensions of a writer’s labor—you know, how many shots it took to get a certain paragraph right. Or the awesome accumulation, the gross tonnage, of first draft pages. The first draft of Libra sits in ten manuscript boxes. I like knowing it’s in the house. I feel connected to it. It’s the complete book, the full experience containable on paper. I find I’m more ready to discard pages than I used to be... I used to find ways to save a paragraph or a sentence, maybe by relocating it. Now I look for ways to discard things. If I discard a sentence I like, it’s almost as satisfying as keeping a sentence I like. I don’t think I’ve become ruthless or perverse—just a bit more willing to believe that nature will restore itself...."
"...There’s a zone I aspire to. Finding it is another question. It’s a state of automatic writing, and it represents the paradox that’s at the center of a writer’s consciousness—this writer’s anyway. First you look for discipline and control. You want to exercise your will, bend the language your way, bend the world your way. You want to control the flow of impulses, images, words, faces, ideas. But there’s a higher place, a secret aspiration. You want to let go. You want to lose yourself in language, become a carrier or messenger. The best moments involve a loss of control. It’s a kind of rapture, and it can happen with words and phrases fairly often—completely surprising combinations that make a higher kind of sense, that come to you out of nowhere. But rarely for extended periods, for paragraphs and pages—I think poets must have more access to this state than novelists do. In End Zone, a number of characters play a game of touch football in a snowstorm. There’s nothing rapturous or magical about the writing. The writing is simple. But I wrote the passage, maybe five or six pages, in a state of pure momentum, without the slightest pause or deliberation."
This section was of particular interest; I've done it before, sometimes with just a sentence, or a page, but not rigorously, all the way through, just a single paragraph at a time. It's an incredibly helpful technique. I've started doing it now, as I go over my draft of Evening's Land again...
"When I was working on The Names I devised a new method—new to me, anyway. When I finished a paragraph, even a three-line paragraph, I automatically went to a fresh page to start the new paragraph. No crowded pages. This enabled me to see a given set of sentences more clearly. It made rewriting easier and more effective. The white space on the page helped me concentrate more deeply on what I’d written. And with this book I tried to find a deeper level of seriousness as well. The Names is the book that marks the beginning of a new dedication. I needed the invigoration of unfamiliar languages and new landscapes, and I worked to find a clarity of prose that might serve as an equivalent to the clear light of those Aegean islands. The Greeks made an art of the alphabet, a visual art, and I studied the shapes of letters carved on stones all over Athens. This gave me fresh energy and forced me to think more deeply about what I was putting on the page. Some of the work I did in the 1970s was off-the-cuff, not powerfully motivated. I think I forced my way into a couple of books that weren’t begging to be written, or maybe I was writing too fast. Since then I’ve tried to be patient, to wait for a subject to take me over, become part of my life beyond the desk and typewriter. Libra was a great experience that continues to resonate in my mind because of the fascinating and tragic lives that were part of the story. And The Names keeps resonating because of the languages I heard and read and touched and tried to speak and spoke a little and because of the sunlight and the elemental landscapes that I tried to blend into the book’s sentences and paragraphs."
This is a wild soul-book