Into the Zone

Don DeLillo, “The Art of Fiction No. 135,” The Paris Review 128, Fall 1993

INTERVIEWER
Athletes — basketball players, football players — talk about “getting into the zone”. Is there a writer’s zone you get into?

DeLILLO
There’s a zone I aspire to. Finding it is another question. It’s a state of automatic writing, and it represents the paradox that’s at the center of a writer’s consciousness — this writer’s anyway. First you look for discipline and control. You want to exercise your will, bend the language your way, bend the world your way. You want to control the flow of impulses, images, words, faces, ideas. But there’s a higher place, a secret aspiration. You want to let go. You want to lose yourself in language, become a carrier or messenger. The best moments involve a loss of control. It’s a kind of rapture, and it can happen with words and phrases fairly often — completely surprising combinations that make a higher kind of sense, that come to you out of nowhere. But rarely for extended periods, for paragraphs and pages — I think poets must have more access to this state than novelists do. In End Zone, a number of characters play a game of touch football in a snowstorm. There’s nothing rapturous or magical about the writing. The writing is simple. But I wrote the passage, maybe five or six pages, in a state of pure momentum, without the slightest pause or deliberation.

The Instinct is to Kill It

Joy Williams, “Joy Williams, The Art of Fiction No. 223” by Paul Winner, The Paris Review 209 (Summer 2014)

I wonder if understanding the dream is really what must be done. Can we incorporate and treasure and be nourished by that which we do not understand? Of course. Understanding something, especially in these tech times, seems to involve ruthless appropriation and dismantlement and diminishment. I think of something I clipped from the paper and can’t lay my hands on. This peculiar aquatic creature who lives deep within the sea — it looked like a very long eel — came up to the surface, where it was immediately killed and displayed by a dozen or so grinning people on a California beach. Didn’t have a chance to evolve, that one. Curiosity by the nonhuman is not honored in this life. For many people, when confronted with the mysterious, the other, the instinct is to kill it. Then it can be examined.

Unhoused

Andrea Barrett, “Andrea Barrett, The Art of Fiction No. 180″ by Elizabeth Gaffney, The Paris Review 168 (Winter 2003)

INTERVIEWER
Do you think this feeling of not being at home is part of what made you into a writer?

BARRETT
Sure. I’ve never known a writer who didn’t feel ill at ease in the world. Have you? We all feel unhoused in some sense. That’s part of why we write. We feel we don’t fit in, that this world is not our world, that though we may move in it, we’re not of it. Different experiences in our lives may enforce or ameliorate that, but I think if they ameliorate it totally, we stop writing. You don’t need to write a novel if you feel at home in the world. We write about the world because it doesn’t make sense to us. Through writing, maybe we can penetrate it, elucidate it, somehow make it comprehensible. If I had ever found the place where I was perfectly at home, who knows what I would have done? Maybe I would have been a biologist after all. No great loss if that had been the case, but it didn’t work out that way.

See Mary Ruefle.