Writer’s Desk: Let the Words Come to You

The late Jim Harrison cast the kind of shadow across the literary landscape you don’t much see anymore. A writer more arguably associated with a kind of lyrical American wilderness and wildness than any since Theodore Roosevelt (perhaps Cormac McCarthy), he flung his talents widely across fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. He was also a gourmand of exquisite tastes and occasional overkill (“Hangovers have all the charm of a rattlesnake cracking its jaws as it swallows a toad”).

Though prolific, Harrison took his time when working on a piece. He was more likely to let the characters mill about in his head for a time, take a walk, be patient, and then strike when the moment was right:

You can’t go to it. It has to come to you.  You have to find the voice of the character. Your own voice should be irrelevant in a novel. Bad novels are full of opinions, and the writer intruding, when you should leave it to your character…

Good advice but of course easier for some than others. Following this method, Harrison wrote Legends of the Fall in nine days and submitted it after only changing one word. Hard act to follow.

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