“Writers ever since writing began have had problems, and the main problem narrows down to just one word—life.” ~ William Styron, from “The Art of Fiction No. 5″

From one of the first interviews in The Paris Review (1954), the young William Styron (click on link for full interview):

INTERVIEWER (Peter Matthiessen and George Plimpton)

What value has the creative writing course for young writers?

STYRON

It gives them a start, I suppose. But it can be an awful waste of time. Look at those people who go back year after year to summer writers’ conferences, you get so you can pick them out a mile away. A writing course can only give you a start, and help a little. It can’t teach writing. The professor should weed out the good from the bad, cull them like a farmer, and not encourage the ones who haven’t got something. At one school I know in New York, which has a lot of writing courses, there are a couple of teachers who moon in the most disgusting way over the poorest, most talentless writers, giving false hope where there shouldn’t be any hope at all. Regularly they put out dreary little anthologies, the quality of which would chill your blood. It’s a ruinous business, a waste of paper and time, and such teachers should be abolished.

INTERVIEWER

The average teacher can’t teach anything about technique or style?

STYRON

Well, he can teach you something in matters of technique. You know—don’t tell a story from two points of view and that sort of thing. But I don’t think even the most conscientious and astute teachers can teach anything about style. Style comes only after long, hard practice and writing.

INTERVIEWER

Do you enjoy writing?

STYRON

I certainly don’t. I get a fine, warm feeling when I’m doing well, but that pleasure is pretty much negated by the pain of getting started each day. Let’s face it, writing is hell.

INTERVIEWER

How many pages do you turn out each day?

STYRON

When I’m writing steadily—that is, when I’m involved in a project that I’m really interested in, one of those rare pieces that has a foreseeable end—I average two-and-a-half or three pages a day, longhand on yellow sheets. I  spend about five hours at it, of which very little is spent actually writing. I try to get a feeling of what’s going on in the story before I put it down on paper, but actually most of this breaking-in period is one long, fantastic daydream, in which I think about anything but the work at hand. I can’t turn out slews of stuff each day. I wish I could. I seem to have some neurotic need to perfect each paragraph—each sentence, even—as I go along.

INTERVIEWER

And what time of the day do you find best for working?

STYRON

The afternoon. I like to stay up late at night and get drunk and sleep late. I wish I could break the habit but I can’t. The afternoon is the only time I have left and I try to use it to the best advantage, with a hangover.

INTERVIEWER

Do you use a notebook?

STYRON

No, I don’t feel the need for it. I’ve tried, but it does no good, since I’ve never used what I’ve written down. I think the use of a notebook depends upon the individual.

INTERVIEWER

Do you find you need seclusion?

STYRON

I find it’s difficult to write in complete isolation. I think it would be hard for me on a South Sea island or in the Maine woods. I like company and entertainment, people around. The actual process of writing, though, demands complete, noiseless privacy, without even music; a baby howling two blocks away will drive me nuts.

INTERVIEWER

Does your emotional state have any bearing on your work?

STYRON

I guess like everybody I’m emotionally fouled up most of the time, but I find I do better when I’m relatively placid. It’s hard to say, though. If writers had to wait until their precious psyches were completely serene there wouldn’t be much writing done. Actually—though I don’t take advantage of the fact as much as I should—I find that I’m simply the happiest, the placidest, when I’m writing, and so I suppose that that, for me, is the final answer. When I’m writing I find it’s the only time that I feel completely self-possessed, even when the writing itself is not going too well. It’s fine therapy for people who are perpetually scared of nameless threats as I am most of the time—for jittery people. Besides, I’ve discovered that when I’m not writing I’m prone to developing certain nervous tics, and hypochondria. Writing alleviates those quite a bit. I think I resist change more than most people. I dislike traveling, like to stay settled. When I first came to Paris all I could think about was going home, home to the old James River. One of these days I expect to inherit a peanut farm. Go back home and farm them old peanuts and be real old Southern whisky gentry.

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