Wisława Szymborska: Advice for Writers

Joanna Kavenna in Literary Review:

Inverting the old cliché, Christopher Hitchens said, ‘Everyone has a book in them and that, in most cases, is where it should stay.’ The journalist and satirist Karl Kraus agreed: journalists, especially, should never write novels. This was self-satire, partly. Yet there are writers who can barely go to the shops without publishing a voluminous account immediately afterwards. At the other end of this unscientific spectrum are writers who destroy their work, either because they think it’s rubbish (Joyce, Stevenson, etc) or because they’ve become recently convinced it was written by the Devil (Gogol). Some people doubt themselves far too much, others not remotely enough.

With some or none of this in mind, the Polish author Wisława Szymborska, who died in 2012, destroyed 90 per cent of her writing. Despite that (or maybe because of it), she won the Nobel Prize in 1996 for ‘poetry that … allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality’. I have no idea what that means either.

More here.