What is writing?


J.P. Donleavy, an early literary hero of mine, was quoted in Playboy (May, 1979) as saying, “Writing is turning one’s worst moments into money.”

Would that this were so. Meanwhile, another spin on the essence of writing is going the rounds on Facebook:



In other quarters, writers instead turn whiskey into piss and engage in binge writing in the intervals between their alchemical endeavors. (I encountered the expression “binge writing” listening to a Letterman interview with Hunter S. Thompson.)


But let’s leave the last word to Norman Mailer:

“Writing books is the closest men ever come to childbearing.” (NY Times Book Review, 17 September 1963)

Typically, perhaps, he leaves the female writer’s experience out of this account. So maybe we can instead allow me the last word:

Writing books is the closest women ever come to knowing what it’s like for men to come as close as they ever can to giving birth.

And there you have it, another fine aphorism hot off the press.

Illustration from Platt R. Spencer, Spencerian Key to Practical Penmanship, 1869.

Portrait of Hunter S. Thompson from “Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson,” by Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 19 Dec. 2008).

Whiskey is of course a false Muse.

6 thoughts on “What is writing?”

  1. J.P. Donleavy was smoking some very heavy shit in those days. I like the childbirth analogy, but given the quality of my own writing, I would rather compare it to squeezing off a big brown one first thing in the morning.

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