“How to Write a Novel” — Gordon Lish

Books, Literature, Writers

“How to Write a Novel” by Gordon Lish

First make sure you have enough time. It is crucial that you have enough time to make things up. Myself, I do not have time enough for anything like that.

But I’ll tell you what’s what. It will not be hard for you to follow me doing it.

Just listen.

Just watch.

I’m composing these instructions on an I.B.M. Selectric. I got it back in 1961. I did not buy it. I finessed it or I finagled it or I stole it.

The person who is the unexpressed direct object of one or the other of these verbs was rich. He said you can borrow this thing, use it for a while. Then he stuck his other thing in my wife’s thing. They still have their things and I have this thing and I’m not giving it up.

It’s given tip-top service. I really loved it when I first saw it, and I still love it just as much.

I never cover it over with anything. I don’t cover it over with anything like a cover or anything—because I like to look at it—the shape.  I.B.M. is good at giving a thing a nice shape. I always look at the shape of things before I snap of the light in a room.

I think 1961 was the Selectric’s first year.

I talk to engineers whenever I get a chance. I don’t mean the kind that build bridges. I mean the fellows that service things. Those are the engineers I talk to.

You know what one of those fellows once told me once? Buy the first of whatever it is! He said buy the first one of whatever it is because the maker of it is never going to knock himself out like that again—making, you know, all of the others after that. That’s why this one’s still going fine after so many wonderful, wonderful years.

The same goes for the Polaroid camera I’ve got. I’ve got the oldest one there is. You know how old that is? Here’s how old it is. It’s called, they call it, the Polaroid Land Camera.

That’s how goddamn old it is!

No shit, it was a first one—it was the very first Polaroid the Polaroid people made!

You want to see pictures? Look at these pictures! Tell me when in your life you ever saw in your life pictures as sharp as these pictures!

Because they’e this big when I start out with them. You see how big? Next to nothing, right? But then what? But then I go get them all blown up as big as life! See them? Look at them all over the walls if you don’t know what I mean!

That’s resolution for you , isn’t it?

Well, that’s my second wife, okay?

They’re framed all over the place.

People come in here and then they look at them and then they smack their heads.

My God, they say, such pictures!

I say, original issue, a maker knows his game.

Jacques Derrida vs. John Searle (Book Shelf Showdown)

Writers

Photographer Andrew Bush’s instillation Speech Acts combines two photographs of book shelves–one of Jacques Derrida’s and one of John Searle’s. Derrida and Searle rumbled over the primacy of speech vs. writing in the 1970s (read Derrida’s seminal essay “Signature Event Context” for more).

Jacques Derrida's room of his published books in his home in Ris Orange, France, 2001

John Searle's room of his published books in his home in Berkeley, CA, 2000