Curt Gardner curated some great lines from Don DeLillo on writing, and I wanted to share this exchange between two titans:
In a June 11, 2007 New Yorker “Final Destination” article on the Ransom Center Archives, author D.T. Max investigates the DeLillo archives, and finds this exchange between David Foster Wallace and DeLillo on writing:
In October, 1995, David Foster Wallace wrote to him, “Because I tend both to think I’m uniquely afflicted and to idealize people I admire, I tend to imagine you never having had to struggle with any of this narcissism or indulgence stuff. . . . Maybe I want a pep-talk, because I have to tell you I don’t enjoy this war one bit.”
DeLillo responded in November. “I was a semiconscious writer in the beginning,” he writes. “Just sat and wrote something, or read the newspaper, or went to the movies. Over time I began to understand, one, that I was lucky to be doing this work, and, two, that the only way I’d get better at it was to be more serious, to understand the rigors of novel-writing and to make it central to my life, not a variation on some related career choice, like sportswriting or playwriting. The novel is different. . . . We die indoors, and alone, and I don’t mean to sound overdramatic but you know what I’m talking about. Anyway, all of this happened over time, until eventually discipline no longer seemed something outside me that urged the reluctant body into the room. At this point discipline is inseparable from what I do. It’s not even definable as discipline. It has no name. I never think about it. But there’s no trick of meditation or self-mastery that brought it about. I got older, that’s all. I was not a born novelist (if anyone is). I had to grow into novelhood.“
This is the good stuff. You don’t need to be an aspiring novelist to take away the wisdom in DeLillo’s response. Anything worth doing is worth doing with a stern, unspoken degree of discipline. What does that mean? Well, I’m sure it’s different for everyone, but it’s something that will need to be understood before the work can provide any meaningful transformation to the artist.
I’ve struggled with this. I’ve struggled to quiet my mind and settle into the groove of discipline, like what DeLillo is writing about here. But I think it’s important. Maybe it is just getting older. Something you grow into, if you’re paying attention.