Writer’s Desk: Making It Up as You Go

Back in 1973, Cormac McCarthy was about to publish his third novel, Child of God, and was already one of America’s greatest writers. Few people where he lived in Kingsport, Tennessee had any idea.

When a writer from the Kingsport Times-News tracked McCarthy down and tried to pry some wisdom out of the “the mustachioed, suede-suited novelist,” here is some of what the later very press-avoidant writer told them:

When you write something down you pretty well kill it. Leave it loose and knocking around up there and you never know—it might turn into something.

Which is a hard thing to do. Some writers worry that if they leave it knocking around up there too long, it might disappear. But maybe that’s the test? If it hangs around long enough, it’s something to hang on to and work on.

McCarthy went on:

Creativity is an elusive thing to pin down; but McCarthy finally made his point with a parable. While living in Spain some years ago, he had a novelist friend, “a kindred soul, a madman.” This friend was in a bar, where companions were quizzing him. “Where do you get your ideas?” While the conversation was taking place, only the novelist was paying any attention to a dwarf who was crawling along the top of the bar, methodically draining the abandoned mugs of their last dregs of beer. . . . “I can’t explain how one creates a novel,” McCarthy mused. “It’s like jazz. They create as they play, and maybe only those who can do it can understand it.”

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