Writing Tips from Norman Mailer

Norman Mailer

Norman Mailer


Make a firm commitment to your work: “Over the years, I’ve found one rule. It is the only one I give on those occasions when I talk about writing. A simple rule. If you tell yourself you are going to be at your desk tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material. You are, in effect, contracting to pick up such valuables at a given time. Count on me, you are saying to a few forces below: I will be there to write.” (Mailer writing in The Spooky Art: Some Thoughts on Writing, Random House, 2003)

Treat facts like an art form: “For me there is very little difference between fiction and non-fiction. I can’t bear non-fiction unless it reads like fiction. By which I mean there’s a sense of presence, you create a atmosphere, the people are as real in their characters as they are novels…and the story is given to you, which is one of the great benefit of non fiction.” (Speaking to Charlie Rose, 2007)

Approach your early years with caution: “It’s difficult to write about childhood. I never felt I understood it in any novel way. I never felt other authors did either. Not particularly. I think the portrait of childhood which is given by most writers is rarely true to anything more than the logic of their novel. Childhood is so protean.” (From an interview by Steven Marcus in The Paris Review, 1964)

Be controversial: “Look, most writers who are timid are afraid of pissing people off, because they feel they’ll lose part of their audience. My feeling has always been that one mustn’t be afraid of that. It’s much better to write with the notion that if you’re good enough, you can change people’s lives. That’s one of the powerful motives of writing, to feel that you’ve enlarged other people’s consciousness. And the way you do that is you open their minds. Now that can be painful and irritating and annoying or worse for people, but you can’t look back.” (From Entertainment Weekly, promoting The Castle in the Forest in 2007)

Don’t be confined by one particular style: “One of my basic notions for a long, long time is that there is this mysterious mountain out there called reality. We novelists are always trying to climb it. We are mountaineers, and the question is, Which face do you attack? Different  faces call for different approaches, and some demand a knotty and convoluted  interior style. Others demand great simplicity. The point is that style is an attack on the nature of reality. ” (From an interview with  Andrew O’Hagan in The Paris Review, 2007)

Know when your work is done: “When I read it, I don’t wince, which is all I ever ask for a book I write.” (Mailer reflecting on Tough Guys Don’t Dance in the New York Times in 1984)

From Wikipedia:

Norman Kingsley Mailer (January 31, 1923 – November 10, 2007) was an American novelist, journalist, essayist, playwright, film maker, actor and political candidate. His best work was widely considered to be The Executioner’s Song, which was published in 1980, and for which he won one of his two Pulitzer Prizes. In addition to the Pulitzer Prize, Mailer’s book Armies of the Night was awarded the National Book Award.

Along with the likes of Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe, Mailer is considered an innovator of creative nonfiction, a genre sometimes called New Journalism, which superimposes the style and devices of literary fiction onto fact-based journalism.

In 1955, Mailer and three others founded The Village Voice, an arts and politics oriented weekly newspaper distributed in Greenwich Village.

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