25 December 2004

not selling out, not that anyone was buying

from William Stafford's Writing the Australian Crawl: Views on the Writer's Vocation

Q: Auden and Roethke have both said that when they finish a poem that they know is really good, the satisfaction quickly fades into an anxious question: "Maybe this is the last time?"

A: Those poor guys. I can't imagine what kind of anxiety-ridden life that would be. My own feeling is that we don't have to worry about that. Will we think of something else? Sure we will. We always do. I do not at all have that feeling. I meet people who have done something good and they want to cherish it, to hoard it somehow -- because it might be the only time in their lives. . . . Well, I have this feeling: "No, no, no" . . . all these things are expendable and the more expendable you keep feeling these things are, the more likely you are to have things happen to you.

Q: It doesn't sound as if you are troubled by writing blocks.

A: Writing blocks? I don't believe in them.

Q: But what if somebody has one? Doesn't that person have to believe in them? You may not suffer from them, but surely other people do.

A: No, I've never experienced anything like that. I believe that the so-called "writing block" is a product of some kind of disproportion between your standards and your performance. I can imagine a person beginning to feel that he's not able to write up to that standard he imagines the world has set for him. But to me that's surrealistic. The only standard I can rationally have is the standard I'm meeting right now. Of course I can write. Anybody can write. People might think that their product is not worthy of the person they assume they are. But it is.

Q: Aren't you really talking, in a nice way, about vanity?

A: Yes, I think vanity gets in your way. You begin to feel you've accomplished something once -- and you get afraid that you won't be able to accomplish it again, at least right now. So you don't go into anything. But my own feeling is that you should be more willing to forgive yourself. It really doesn't make any difference if you are good or bad today. The assessment of the product is something that happens after you've done it. You should simply go ahead and do it. And do it, I might add, without being critical.

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