Building a Writer with William Styron

William Styron

William Styron


If you had to build a sort of composite writer, what attributes would you give him?


I don’t know exactly, but first would be a background in reading. A writer must have read an enormous amount by the time he begins to write. I remember when I first wanted to be a writer, at the age of eighteen, just immersing myself in books—marauding forays I made at the Duke University library. I read everything I could get my hands on. I read promiscuously: I read poetry; I read drama; I read novel after novel. I read until I realized I was causing damage to my eyes. It was a kind of runaway lust.

The second thing is that you must love language. You must adore language—cherish it, and play with it and love what it does. You have to have a vocabulary. So many writers who disappoint me don’t have a vocabulary—they don’t seem to have much feeling for words.

Those are two of the most important things for a writer. The rest is passion and vision; and it’s important, I think, to have a theme. Melville said, probably in a grandiose way, To write a mighty book you must have a mighty theme. I do think there is something to that. You need not have a grandiose theme but you must have an important theme. You must be trying to write about important things, although a truly fine writer will deal with seemingly unimportant matters and make them transcendentally important.

From Wikipedia:

William Clark Styron, Jr. (June 11, 1925 – November 1, 2006) was an American novelist and essayist who won major literary awards for his work.

For much of his career, Styron was best known for his novels, including:

  • Lie Down in Darkness (1951), his acclaimed first novel, published at age 26;
  • The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967), narrated by Nat Turner, the leader of an 1831 Virginia slave revolt;
  • Sophie’s Choice (1979), a story “told through the eyes of a young aspiring writer from the South, about a Polish Catholic survivor of Auschwitz and her brilliant but troubled Jewish lover in postwar Brooklyn”.

Styron’s influence deepened and his readership expanded with the publication of Darkness Visible in 1990. This memoir, originally intended as a magazine article, chronicled the author’s descent into depression and his near-fatal night of “despair beyond despair”.


One thought on “Building a Writer with William Styron

  1. Very true. That’s one of the reasons I love the classics. They’re more likely to pay attention to the language and the sound of the language. They weren’t written just to entertain, but to say something more.

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