Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Becoming a Writer: Kate Chopin's Method of Writing

Kate Chopin in 1894Image via Wikipedia

KATE CHOPIN (1851-1904)

A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Kate Chopin (born Katherine O'Flaherty in 1851) upon her marriage moved to Louisiana, her husband’s home.

Initially she wrote short stories for newspapers and magazines. Her first big literary success came with the publication of The Awakening, an exploration of incipient feminism and sexuality.

Kate Chopin’ brief essay about writing answers the basic questions that students of Journalism 101 are made to memorize: how, where, when, why, and what? Although her answers seem sarcastic and simplistic on the surface, one can find some wisdom in the deeper layers.

Kate Chopin’s Method of Writing

Eight or nine years ago I began to write stories-short stories which appeared in the magazines, and I forthwith began to sus­pect I had the writing habit. The public shared this impression, and called me an author. Since then, though I have written many short stories and a novel or two, I am forced to admit that I have not the writing habit. But it is hard to make people with the questioning habit believe this.
"How, where, when, why, what do you write?" are some of the questions that I remember. How do I write? On a lapboard with a block of paper, a stub pen, and a bottle of ink bought at the comer grocery, which keeps the best in town.

Where do I write? In a Morris chair beside the window, where I can see a few trees and a patch of sky, more or less blue.

When do I write? I am greatly tempted here to use slang and reply "any old time," but that would lend a tone of levity to this bit of confidence, whose seriousness I want to keep intact if pos­sible. So I shall say I write in the morning, when not too strong­ly drawn to struggle with the intricacies of a pattern, and in the afternoon, if the temptation to try a new furniture polish on an old table leg is not too powerful to be denied; sometimes at night, though as I grow older I am more and more inclined to believe that night was made for sleep.

'Why do I write?" is a question which I have often asked myself and never very satisfactorily answered. Story-writing —at least with me— is the spontaneous expression of impressions gathered goodness knows where. To seek the source, the impulse of a story is like tearing a flower to pieces for wanton­ness.

What do I write? Well, not everything that comes into my head, but much of what I have written lies between the covers of my books.

There are stories that seem to write themselves, and others which positively refuse to be written—which no amount of coax­ing can bring to anything. I do not believe any writer has ever made a "portrait" in fiction. A trick, a mannerism, a physical trait or mental characteristic go a very short way towards portraying the complete individual in real life who suggests the individual in the writer's imagination. The "material" of a writer is to the last degree uncertain, and I fear not marketable. I have been told stories which were looked upon as veritable gold mines by the generous narrators who placed them at my disposal. I have been taken to spots supposed to be alive with local color. I have been introduced to excruciating characters with frank permis­sion to use them as I liked, but never, in any single instance, has such material been of the slightest service. I am completely at the mercy of unconscious selection. To such an extent is this true, that what is called the polishing up process has always proved disastrous to my work, and I avoid it, preferring the integrity of crudities to artificialities.

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