Writing Advice from La Wharton

I finally finished Hermione Lee’s biography of Edith Wharton. I probably won’t reread it, but it was interesting enough to slog through all 800-plus pages.

I copied out two quotes for you.

The first one has to do with the books in Edith’s library. She frequently wrote in the books she was reading and had no time for people who believed that books should be treated like fragile objects. She was fond of this quote, from W. N. P. Barbellion’s Journal of a Disappointed Man, “A Book is a Person and not a Thing.”

The second quote is one of Wharton’s diary entries from 1934, when she was working on her novel The Buccaneers.

“What is writing a novel like?
1. The beginning: A ride through a spring wood.
2. The middle: The Gobi desert.
3. The end: A night with a lover.
I am now in the Gobi desert.”

When Edith Wharton wrote these words, she was 72 years old. She had published 20 novels, more than 85 short stories, and won a Pulitzer.

I think this gives all of us permission to grumble a bit when stuck in the Gobi desert, but then we have to go back to work.


15 Replies to “Writing Advice from La Wharton”

  1. From someone who is currently crawling through the desert on hands and knees, thanks for the sip of water to help me carry on. 🙂

  2. Ooh – love both of those quotes. Thanks for providing them.

    Although her inclination to write in books, and to consider them people, makes me wonder if she wrote on people. You can’t fault my logic – in fact, it’s a syllogism. “Edith Wharton writes in books. Books are people. Therefore, Edith Wharton writes on people.” Still, I doubt it’s true.

  3. I write all through my books as well. In fact, I won’t buy a nice hardcover of an old book ’cause I know I’m going to mark up every page.

    Love the desert quote. She had a much better time than Winston Churchill:

    “Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public.”

  4. I can identify with #2: the Gobi desert. Where I am now. Or rather what I am preparing to “map” and then traverse. I hope number three is true for me. Would be nice!

  5. wintergirls

    OK, this might be a little off topic, but I have to say it- WHOA.I just finished reading Wintergirls today and the ending was really unexpected for me, both in terms of the story and your writing(I’m saying this in the most positive way possible, I swear). I mean, the beginning and the middle(or the spring forest and the Gobi, which ever way you want ot look at it) were alot more like your style of writing- not sugarcoated, focused directly on the main character’s thoughts and actions, and you use language and situations that all of us have done and experienced, but sometimes we don’t admit. Then the ending comes along out of practically nowhere,BOOM! It was really good, one of the best I’ve read in a looooooooooooooooong time!!!

  6. Delurking. *waves*
    I think this is a really good way of putting it. Especially since I’m still in the Gobi desert with last year’s NaNoWriMo novel, lol.

  7. Every time I hear the name Edith Wharton, I think of the college I went to my freshman year. Our lit house had a cat named after her, and I’m pretty sure if the cat could write, she would have been very good at it 😉

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