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The Agony of Writing

All writers have the occasional unproductive day.

I don’t know if Tim Finn (of Crowded House fame) was mis-quoting Orson Wells, when he compared his song-writing technique to the screen-writers’ writing day: “This morning I added a comma. This afternoon I took it out again.” But I did have the privilege of hearing John Irving speak a couple of years ago, and he spoke of a similar approach. “I write long books and I work slowly.” The truth is, there are no short-cuts.

Planet Word provided a similar exchange with Joyce:

“Good day’s work, Joyce?”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Write a chapter?”


“A paragraph?”


“A sentence?”

“I had the words of the sentence yesterday, but I got them in the right order today.”

Unless this was a much-repeated subject of Joyce’s – as may well be possible – it too may have been tampered with for television, since I found the quote written down as:

“I’ve been working hard on [Ulysses] all day,” said Joyce.

Does that mean that you have written a great deal?” I said.

Two sentences,” said Joyce.

I looked sideways but Joyce was not smiling. I thought of [French novelist Gustave] Flaubert. “You’ve been seeking the mot juste?” I said.

No,” said Joyce. “I have the words already. What I am seeking is the perfect order of words in the sentence.” (Kaye)”

And so to work…