Noted: Tobias Wolff

“Only at the end of the day, reading over what I’d done, working through it with a with a green pencil, did I see how far I was from where I wanted to be. In the very act of writing I felt pleased with what I did. There was pleasure in having words come to me, and the pleasure of ordering them, re-ordering them, weighing one against another. Pleasure also in the imagination of the story, the feeling that it could mean something. Mostly I was glad to find out that I could write at all. In writing you work toward a result you won’t see for years, and can’t be sure you’ll ever see. It takes stamina and self mastery and faith. It demands those things of you, then gives them back with a little extra, a surprise to keep you coming. It toughens you and clears your head. I could feel it happening. I was saving my life with every word I wrote, and I knew it.”

In Pharoah’s Army: Memories of the Lost War


Filed under discovery, memoir, NOTED, working method

2 responses to “Noted: Tobias Wolff

  1. I want to quibble with this, but I don’t know why. I spend a lot of time trying to explain the difficulties of writing, the strength and time and, OK, stamina and self-mastery it takes. But I don’t want to make too much of it, you know? I don’t want people to throw donuts at me. Maybe it’s too dramatic. Then again, I want my writers to talk about writing, when they must, in the most poetic way possible, and this, I guess, is it.

    In other words, hi! How you doin’?

  2. Hi Leslie and thanks for your comment. I am doing just fine, and my writing is going well.

    You’re not the first person to note that I may belabor the difficulty of writing on this blog. (Hmmm–gives me an idea for a post!) I struggle sometimes but agree with Annie Dillard that love is more powerful than discipline in getting words on the page. In Wolff’s case, his poetic riff arises after he’s shown us what a screw-up he’s been–or, rather, that he feels himself to be–and he discovers that writing, his dream, is indeed the work he can do and which can save him and redeem him in his own eyes.

    Yet note that, even so, Wolff talks mostly about pleasure. And the reason I put this passage up, from his second (wonderful) memoir, is the latter part, about discovery. To me, he’s talking about the little unplanned creative upwellings and small breakthroughs and fleeting gifts that happen in writing, whether it is going easy or hard. I see it happen sometimes, these bouquets from the unconscious, often when I’ve applied my butt to the chair enough despite feeling scared or confused about how to solve a problem . . .