She has what strikes me as an organized mind, something I keenly feel that I lack: the ability to go headlong into a problem and see it through until it's been completely worked out. I tend to think sideways, in many directions at once; the result of a vivid curiosity and an underdeveloped sense of discipline. I also blame wonderful and damaging inventions like the internet, which does not help in this respect, what with its hyperlinks and the expectation of instaneous comprehension it creates in the reader.
To think well, and to write well, I often find I need to shut my mind to the noise of mass communication. Even Woolf felt this way, as she wrote in a letter to Ethel Smyth, "the fact about contemporaries […] is that they’re doing the same thing on another railway line: one resents their distracting one, flashing past, the wrong way—something like that: from timidity, partly, one keeps ones eyes on one’s own road” (L IV, 315).
I'm reading some extracts of Sontag's journals (who runs in a direct line from Woolf, if any one does) that were published recently in the NY Times. I identify so strongly with what she writes, and dare to hope, idiotically, that similar thoughts on writing might imply similar levels of talent and competence...
31 December, 1958, in Paris
Nothing prevents me from being a writer except laziness. A good writer.
and 19 November 1959, New York
The only kind of writer I could be is the kind who exposes himself.. . .To write is to spend oneself, to gamble oneself. But up to now I have not even liked the sound of my own name. To write, I must love my name. The writer is in love with himself. . .and makes his books out of that meeting and that violence.
and this is one of my favorites:
Becoming aware of the 'dead places' of feeling — Talking without feeling anything. (This
is very different from my old self-revulsion at talking without knowing anything.)
The writer must be four people:
1) the nut, the obsédé
2) the moron
3) the stylist
4) the critic
1) supplies the material
2) lets it come out
3) is taste
4) is intelligence
a great writer has all 4 — but you can still be
a good writer with only 1) and 2); they're most important.
read the rest of the journal entries here, the whole of which are set to be published by FSG in 2008 or 2009.