Posts Tagged ‘Failure and Success’
Author interviews can be tame affairs. But Eric Miles Williamson had some interesting things to say in this Huffington Post interview with Anis Shivani, in which Williamson plays well the part of The Iconoclastic Writer. It’s a long interview, so I’ll pull out just a few of the many provocative threads.
“Writers should write for the dead writers and the writers yet to be born,” he says, “for only they are worthy of our labors.” Without agreeing, I respect his sentiment and his quest. For example:
My copy of Shakespeare sits on my desk so I can remember that I suck, so that I feel bad about what I’m presuming to do. Every writer should feel like a failure. A writer who thinks he is a success is a bad writer.
Here’s the part, about how he learned from jazz soloists not to write every day, that really turned my head:
Methods. They vary according to what I’m writing. I’m not one of those writers like Hemingway or Jack London or Updike or you, Mr. Shivani, who writes every day. I personally don’t think it’s good for one’s art.
When I was making my living as a professional jazz trumpeter I once met the great alto saxophonist Phil Woods. He’s without compare as a soloist, better, in my opinion, than even Charlie Parker. Parker, if you study his solos, his improvisational patterns, falls into rote patterns, repeats himself, sometimes for up to three or four measures. And it’s not a deliberate self-citation, either. It’s that Charlie Parker, like so many artists, would find himself confronted with an artistic situation and respond with a statement he’d made before. I’ve done this myself in any number of essays I’ve written, and I’ve found myself, unfortunately, doing it in my fiction. This is to be avoided. Phil Woods never makes this faux pas. Faulkner does, Miles Davis does, Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, Picasso and Van Gogh and even Bach. Not Phil Woods.
So when I met him I asked him how he did it, how he managed never to play the same lick twice. He told me that every five years he took a year off from his alto sax and played a different instrument, like the flute, for a year. By playing a different axe, he was forced, because of the physical and tonal differences, to rewire not only his thinking, but his physical relationship to his artistic medium. So when he went back to his alto saxophone, it was an alien to him, new once again, something to explore and understand and through which he could express himself differently than he had before alienating himself from it.
That’s passion for writing.