Posts tagged death

How writers generate ideas

One of the most common questions I’m asked whenever I give a talk is “How do you generate ideas?” The honest answer is: I don’t.
Oh, I’ve tried. Believe me, I have. I’ve sat at the computer all morning and willed myself to generate an idea. Sometimes, after a few hours of mental torture, if a deadline is looming, I’ve managed to squeeze out something, just one idea at least. The trouble is, I know even as I’m typing it out that it’s not very good.

The best ideas, you see, come in a completely different way.

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“The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion

“You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.” This book has simple sentences like this scattered through it. They’re things you know, but forget. Your loved ones will die, so make the most of the time you have. I suppose I don’t like to look at members of my family and think about them dying, so I push the thought away. Reading this book, I was unable to push anything away. I will die one day, and so will everyone I know. A simple thought, and… Read More

“Death At Intervals” by Jose Saramago

I love the premise of this book. One day, in a particular country, people stop dying. They still get old, get sick, get mangled in car accidents, etc., but they can’t die. At first this news is greeted with elation. It’s the end of Death’s age-old tyranny, the greatest fear suddenly removed. But then the complications begin. People still suffer, old people lie in bed on the verge of death but unable to cross over. Retirement homes go into crisis, as people continue to arrive but nobody leaves. Funeral homes… Read More

J.D. Salinger and phonies

The other day, I picked up a copy of The Times because of the news of J.D. Salinger’s death on the cover. I read about Catcher in the Rye and its skewering of “phonies”, and how Salinger retreated to his home in New Hampshire and ignored the world for about forty years. Then I read the rest of the paper, an unusual thing for me to do these days. I read an article about Britain’s measure of inequality hitting a new high, and why this was not a bad thing…. Read More

“The Death of Ivan Ilyich” by Leo Tolstoy

A man dies slowly and in great agony. He ponders the meaning of life, and this increases his anguish: even worse than the physical pain of a slow, lingering death is the spiritual anguish of realising he has wasted his life. Tolstoy’s main target here is dishonesty and hypocrisy. This is established from the opening scene, when Ivan Ilyich’s death is announced, and the reaction of his colleagues is to think about how this will affect their promotion chances, while speaking the usual lines about it being a “sad business”… Read More