Spanish novelist Imma Monsó has written an article inspired by the publication in Spanish of US novelist James Salter’s The Art of Fiction. Salter’s book is based on a series of 2014 lectures he gave at the University of Virginia as their Writer in Residence. Monsó’s article focuses on Salter’s inclusion of a quote from Evelyn Waugh about the process of writing a novel. This comes from a 1930 Daily Mail article entitled “People Who Want to Sue Me.” Neither Salter nor Monsó cite the source for Waugh’s quote; Salter slightly misquotes it, and the Spanish version carries things even further. Here’s the quote from the article (reprinted in A Little Order, p. 13):
If only the amateurs would get it into their heads that novel writing is a highly skilled and laborious trade. One does not just sit behind a screen jotting down other people’s conversation. One has for one’s raw material every single thing one has ever seen or heard or felt, and one has to go over that vast, smouldering rubbish-heap of experience, half stifled by the fumes and dust, scraping and delving until one finds a few discarded valuables.
Then one has to assemble these tarnished and dented fragments, polish them, set them in order, and try to make a coherent and significant arrangement of them. It is not merely a matter of filling up a dust-bin haphazard and emptying it again in another place.
In CWEW, v. 26 (pp. 241-45) a note to this article explains that Waugh was concerned to avert litigation involving persons claiming they were depicted as characters in his novel Vile Bodies–in particular Rosa Lewis who saw Lottie Crump as a parody of herself.
In Monsó’s article, she updates Waugh’s analysis a bit based on her own experience of writing several novels and short story collections:
The metaphor of rubbish has enchanted me. And that’s what Waugh said a century ago! Imagine now: since virtual life has been added to real life, our mind is a dumping ground for images, phrases and encounters that do not give us time to recycle. Such is the infinity of stimuli to which we are subjected, so many perceptions that reach us in a single day, in reality and on the screen, that unprocessed waste accumulates incessantly in our heads. Also in the head of the writer, whose biggest concern is no longer the blank page: it is the blank mind that worries, that the mind goes into collapse, gripped by the creeping chaos against which it is difficult to fight.
In this way, the blank page is now almost a chimera, an object of desire, something as rare as the white blackbird or the green ray. I have not seen one for a long time, since I first published notebooks at the university. Sometimes I dream, and at the thought of dirtying it, I wake up in terror. Fear of the blank page? No man no. Our biggest concern, is currently one and only one: rubbish.
Translation is by Google; Waugh’s “rubbish” is substituted for Google’s translation of “basura” as “garbage”. The article appears in the Barcelona newspaper La Vanguardia and is entitled ¿En blanco? (“Blank Page?”)