The Literary Mind

Life, literature, and politics, from the inside out.

On Writing

Writing: An animal obsessively eats itself


I doubt that writers are people “who need to write,” as some people say.  That claim seems a bit limited and dramatic. 

But writing does seem to exercise of a part of the brain that, in some people, wants a lot of exercise and can’t easily get that exercise another way.

I write because in my writing I can play with abstract concepts in a repetitive, sometimes-obsessive fashion that I couldn’t do in conversation; my play is intense and full of self-reference.

My writing has been one of my longest loving relationships.  I remember writing with my first solo glass of wine in my pre-teens, tapping wildly on an electric typewriter in my brother’s room; I remember writing as identity-formation in high school, in my jeans with song lyrics safety-pinned to my inner thigh; I remember writing as it became my career goal in college.

I have been working on the same novel for seven years—a story about a 13-year-old girl name Clara who is kidnapped to the underworld and given simple instructions for her release:  “Create a work of art.  No one will judge it—you just make it, and you’re free.”  But her anxiety about producing something memorable paralyzes her. 

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I have probably thrown out 900,000 words of this book.  No: more.  It’s almost embarrassing to say how much more, because I’ve seen some authors proudly proclaim that “writing is rewriting; I only keep 1 out of 4 pages” (that by Elmore Leonard, in this clip here), but I am an animal that eats herself more aggressively; I have kept no more than 1 in 4,000 pages.  I write for three 50-minute intervals per day.  For the rest of my day, I have a psychotherapy practice in which I specialize in work with artists. 

Lately, I’ve been making short videos of my novel to break up the silence and stress of my written words.  I’ve decided to post a few of them here.  This video, above--and what the hell in case you're missing it, again here below--is a video in which I try to sing a love story about my writing process.

Ilana Simons, Ph.D., is a literature professor at The New School as well as a practicing therapist.

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