William H. Gass …

William H. Gass …

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William Howard Gass (born July 30, 1924) is an American novelist, short-story writer, essayist, critic, and former philosophy professor. He has written three novels, three collections of short stories, a collection of novellas, and seven volumes of essays, three of which have won National Book Critics Circle Award prizes and one of which, A Temple of Texts (2006), won the Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism. His 1995 novel The Tunnel received the American Book Award. His 2013 novel Middle C won the 2015 William Dean Howells Medal.

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William Gass teaching at Washington University, 1974. Photo: Washington University Magazine.

He gave an interviw in 1976 to the Paris Review for their Art of Fiction series.

I write slowly because I write badly. I have to rewrite everything many, many times just to achieve mediocrity. Time can give you a good critical perspective, and I often have to go slow so that I can look back on what sort of botch of things I made three months ago. Much of the stuff which I will finally publish, with all its flaws, as if it had been dashed off with a felt pen, will have begun eight or more years earlier, and worried and slowly chewed on and left for dead many times in the interim.

We usually get breakfast and the kids off to school by nine o’clock, and I start to work soon after. It’s essential that I be in the midst of something, so I try to quit work with new material that now needs revision in the typewriter. In the morning I can start right off working on those revisions and hope that by the end of the day the process of revising will have sent me forward into some new material. If I get interrupted while I am, in a sense, at the end of something—a sentence, a paragraph, a scene—then I’m liable to have trouble getting back into things. At Yaddo I worked all morning, all afternoon, a great part of the evening, every day. At home I usually work in the morning and for a couple of hours in the afternoon. Lately I have been getting some work done in the evening, but that’s because I have not been teaching at all. I haven’t been talking about grading papers, preparing lectures, that sort of thing. The real writing process is simply sitting there and typing the same old lines over and owver and over and over and sheet after sheet after sheet gets filled with the same shit. And then I discard or abandon material for weeks, months, during which time I start something new. Usually I have a great many projects going at the same time—in the sense that a start of some sort has been made. I get very tense working, so I often have to get up and wander around the house. It is very bad on my stomach. I have to be mad to be working well anyway, and then I am mad about the way things are going on the page in addition. My ulcer flourishes and I have to chew lots of pills. When my work is going well, I am usually sort of sick.

William H Gass

Gass is an early riser. He works mostly in the morning, finishing his serious writing by noon. In a 2013 article in the Daily Beast he was asked to describe his morning routine together with any writing rituals.

I get up. The only thing in life I do easily. After breakfast and a good read of The New York Times, I go to my desk and try to write something until lunch comes. I start to work by studying what I did yesterday. Noon is lunch. That is now followed by naps. In the evening, I usually watch people get shot. I wouldn’t call that a ritual. There is nothing unusual about my workspace – the usual suspects. Lots of lost paper. Shelves of books. One stuffed orangutan with a sore, sad gaze.

Paris Review article in full

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2 responses to “William H. Gass …

  1. Goodness. He is quite an intense fellow, isn’t he? Very literary indeed. I shall make notes.

  2. And he is all of 92 and still working. So there’s hope for us all. I wonder if he eats 🍰🍰.

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