SA4QE 2016 - Thoughtcat - Colchester, United Kingdom

Having taken part in SA4QE since it first started, and used a great number of quotes from Russell Hoban's books, this year I thought I'd share a passage from an interview that Russ gave in 1995 and which has only recently come to light. James Carter interviewed Hoban for his masters dissertation on The Mouse and His Child, and it lay dormant until it was submitted to last November. It's one of the best Hoban interviews I've read. The passage I quoted today struck home with me in particular because I've recently started writing in earnest again after many years of not-writing. When I first discovered Hoban, via the brilliant 1987 novella The Medusa Frequency, I was a teenage poet with aspirations to a literary life. Now nearly 30 years later, my writing career didn't quite work out as I'd hoped, although inbetween times I variously wrote a couple of unpublished novels, a handful of published poems and met Russell Hoban a number of times. My first encounter with him was at a reading he gave at the Richmond literary festival in 1999 to promote his novel Angelica's Grotto. I wrote to him after that with a poem I'd written and he wrote back almost immediately on his trademark yellow paper. I don't have the letter to hand but he said words to the effect of "I remember you well from the reading - you had the pale, determined face of someone who sticks with things and gets things done". This was very good of him, although I didn't stick with the writing quite tenaciously enough. Having recently rediscovered my love of writing though, I realise it's not going too far to say that this is always what I was meant to be doing, and that I probably needn't have struggled with style and subject so much in those early years since what turns out to interest me most is, unsurprisingly now, "the unwordable that happens off the page" as Russ once put it. That's not to say that it's not possible to write it, but rather to look at the world in a different way and write what you see and what interests you, whatever it is and even if it's not the straight reality that most of our lives inhabit. So at the same time as I was rediscovering my writing mojo, this wonderful interview emerged, with this passage.

Don’t worry about the form, and don’t worry about beginnings, middles and endings, take hold of the thing, wherever you can, whatever of an idea presents itself to you, whether it’s the foot or the elbow, grab it, and work out from there. Don’t expect too much of yourself, but – just as people who are thrifty, and who save money – and don’t wait until they’ve got fifty pounds to put in the bank, but put in a pound, or five pounds, or ten pounds, and it accumulates that way, do something every day. If you can only write a paragraph, do a paragraph. If you can write a page, do a page. A whole story, okay, an idea, okay, notes, whatever – just get into the habit of doing something every day. And, let the ideas develop as they will – don’t require of yourself that you do a whole story or a whole novel, just do whatever you can – every day.

This is some of the best creative writing advice I've ever read. I may not, actually, manage to do some writing every day, but it makes writing seem a possible thing to do, which is exactly what you need when you're trying to get your head around a creative project as well as juggle the rest of life's demands.

Read the full interview:

As last year I took my yellow paper out to the river with my girlfriend Katy, who also took part, although she outdid me on the quote quantity. I stuck my quotation on the local village notice board underneath a notice advertising a local "pre-Valentine's Day market". On the other side of the notice board were more signs of village activity, including a splendid one advertising "East Anglia Potato Day". I think Russ would have liked something about that.

Filed under:

United Kingdom