E. L. Doctorow on Why Writing Is Hardest for Writers

Last week, I read the news that author E. L. Doctorow had passed away at the age of 84. I then proceeded to find out who E. L. Doctorow was. He seems to be one of those authors whom everyone knows about and everyone has read except for me. While researching, I stumbled across this interview he gave to The Paris Review in 1986. It contains an interesting anecdote about his attempts to write a short note to which I think writers will relate well. 😉

INTERVIEWER: You once told me that the most difficult thing for a writer to write was a simple household note to someone coming to collect the laundry, or instructions to a cook.

DOCTOROW: What I was thinking of was a note I had to write to the teacher when one of my children missed a day of school. It was my daughter, Caroline, who was then in the second or third grade. I was having my breakfast one morning when she appeared with her lunch box, her rain slicker, and everything, and she said, “I need an absence note for the teacher and the bus is coming in a few minutes.” She gave me a pad and a pencil; even as a child she was very thoughtful. So I wrote down the date and I started, Dear Mrs. So-and-so, my daughter Caroline . . . and then I thought, “No, that’s not right. Obviously, it’s my daughter Caroline.” I tore that sheet off, and started again. “Yesterday, my child . . .” No, that wasn’t right either. Too much like a deposition. This went on until I heard a horn blowing outside. The child was in a state of panic. There was a pile of crumpled pages on the floor, and my wife was saying, “I can’t believe this. I can’t believe this.” She took the pad and pencil and dashed something off. I had been trying to write the perfect absence note. It was a very illuminating experience. Writing is immensely difficult. The short forms especially.

You can read the rest of the interview here.


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