Sunday, July 15, 2007

E. B. White on writing tactics and his environment

Though this is a Sunday, I was set to put in a writing stint on my ongoing novel. I took a long bath, for that’s where new ideas often emerge and settle. We took an early walk into the hills with the village dog. I am now set to sit down and continue.

Yet I’ve done nothing of the sort. Hey, this is a sunny Sunday in the south of France. Why the rush? Keep mulling. This fallow time is a wonderful part of writing.

I picked up Writers at Work 8 from the bookshelf this morning, a collection of interviews with writers from the Paris Review. Their reviews are so deftly edited it seems writers can do nothing when they speak but elucidate wisdom in a flow of beautiful and considered language. I read the interview with E B. White, the author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little among others. (Curiously the book’s preface somewhat diminishes him as an ‘essayist’ rather than a ‘creative writer’, as though writing for children were beneath notice.)

He is fine o this fallow nature of a writer’s industry. ‘Delay is natural to a writer. He is like a surfer—he bides his time. He waits for a surge (of emotion? Of strength? Of courage?) that will carry him along… I am apt to let something simmer for a while in my mind before trying to put it into words. I walk around, straightening pictures on the wall, rugs on the floor—as though not until everything in the world was lined up and perfectly true could anybody reasonably expect me to set a word down on paper.’

This concern for his environment took effect at a deeper level—curiously prescient for an author born in 1899 (he died in 1985). ‘Deeply impressed’ by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, he felt ‘it may well be the book by which the human race will stand or fall’. On a writer’s duty, he claimed: ‘One role of the writer today is to sound the alarm. The environment is disintegrating, the hour is late, and not much is being done. Instead of carting rocks from the moon, we should be carting the faeces out of Lake Erie.’

As my novel for young adults considers a boy’s deep accord with the forces of nature, E. B. White turned out to be an apt and companionable find for a fallow day.

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