Published October 21, 2009 · Estimated reading time: 5 minutes · Filed under , ,

I’ve found it quite hard to write for the past little while. Normally I find that when I don’t write for a couple of days, I get bent out of shape and it becomes harder to do so. But this has been rather a surprising development because I wrote regularly during the summer in Iran. Since returning, however, I feel uninspired despite being overwhelmed perhaps with thoughts and ideas. I’ve arrived at the conclusion that for whatever reason I am suffering from a bad case of writer’s block. After reading on the subject, I’ve decided to not force it though. It seems that, herbal remedies and all, the only reasonable antidote to this malaise is to let words and ideas find their way back into the mind naturally. While conducting my little investigation I found this interesting letter by Fyodor Dosteovsky to his brother Mikhail, discussing Dosteovsky’s experiences and toils writing. I figure if the gods themselves struggled, then there is hope for the rest of us yet.

One thing is a pity: he (Pissemsky) writes too fast. He writes much too fast, and much too much. A man should have more ambition, more respect for his talent and his craft, and more love for art. When one’s young, ideas come crowding incredibly into one’s head; but one should not capture each and all of them as it flies, and rush to give it forth. One should rather await the synthesis, and think more; wait till the many single details which make up an idea have gathered them-selves into a nucleus, into a large, imposing picture; then, and not till then, should one write them down. The colossal figures, created by the colossal writers, have often grown out of long, stubborn labour…

But I have vowed to myself that, however hard it may go with me, I’ll pull myself together, and in no circumstances will I work to order. Work done to order would oppress and blight me. I want each of my efforts to be incontrovertibly good. Just look at Pushkin and Gogol. Both wrote very little, yet both have deserved national memorials. Gogol now gets a thousand roubles a printed page, while Pushkin had, as you know well, as much as a ducat a line of verse. Both — but particularly Gogol — bought their fame at. the price of years of dire poverty…

But I have vowed to myself that, however hard it may go with me, I’ll pull myself together, and in no circumstances will I work to order. Work done to order would oppress and blight me. I want each of my efforts to be incontrovertibly good. Just look at Pushkin and Gogol. Both wrote very little, yet both have deserved national memorials. Gogol now gets a thousand roubles a printed page, while Pushkin had, as you know well, as much as a ducat a line of verse. Both but particularly Gogol bought their fame at the price of years of dire poverty. The old school is going to pieces; and the new school doesn’t write it scribbles. Talent is universally squandered in striving after a ” broad conception,” wherein all one can discover is a monstrous inchoate idea and colossal muscular effort. There is hardly any real serious work in the business.

Beranger said of the modern French feuilletonists that their work was like a bottle of Chambertin in a bucket of water. And our people are the same. Raphael worked for many years at each picture, and lingered long over every detail, therefore he created masterpieces. Gods grew under his brush! And today Vernet gets a picture ready in a month, and each needs a huge room, built expressly. The perspective is grandiose, the conception colossal but there’s not a ha’porth of serious work in the thing. They are all no better than house-painters…

Perhaps it will interest you to know what I do when I’m not writing — well, I read. I read a great deal, and it has a curious effect on me. When I re-read anything that I knew years ago, I feel fresh powers in myself. I can pierce to the heart of the book, grasp it entire, and from it draw new confidence in myself…

My novel, which I simply can’t break loose from, keeps me endlessly at work. If I had known beforehand how it would be, I should never have begun it at all. I decided to do it all over again, and, by God! that has improved it a lot. Now I’m ready with it once more, and this revision is really the last. I have given myself my word not to touch it again. After all, it’s the fate of all first books to be altered over and over again. I don’t know whether Chateaubriand’s `Atala’ was his first book, but I do know that he rewrote it seventeen times. Pushkin did just the same with quite short poems. Gogol used to polish away at his wonderful works for two years at a time, and if you have read the `Sentimental journey,’ that witty book by Sterne, you’ll very likely remember what Walter Scott, in his article on Sterne, says with reference to Sterne’s servant, La Fleur. La Fleur declared that his master had filled about two hundred quires of paper with the description of his journey through France. Now, the question is, What became of all that paper? The result was a little book, for writing which a parsimonious person (such as, for example, Plyushkin) would have used half a quire…

As for myself, I was for some time utterly discouraged. I have one terrible vice: I am unpardonably ambitious and egotistic. The thought that I had disappointed all the hopes set on me, and spoilt what might have been a really significant piece of work, depressed me very heavily. The thought of `Goliadkin’ made me sick. I wrote a lot of it too quickly, and in moments of fatigue. The first half is better than the second. Alongside many brilliant passages are others so disgustingly bad that I can’t read them myself. All this put me in a kind of hell for a time; I was actually ill with vexation. Dear brother, I’ll send you the book in a fortnight. Read it, and give me your honest opinion.

*Source- Letters of Fyodor Michailovitch Dostoyevsky to his family and friends
*Image source

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Permanent linkMarzieh Ghiasi


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