Edmund White: ‘On the Pleasures and Pains of Writing’


Can you discuss your work process? When do you sit down to write, and what do you do to warm up?


Oh, it’s very tormented. I try to write in the morning, and I write in longhand, and I write in very beautiful notebooks [White displays a couple of hardbound notebooks filled with thick, hand-laid paper] and with very beautiful pens. I just write away, and then . . . This is a first go at it, and then I start crossing out, and it gets crazier and crazier, with inserts and so on. Finally, two or three years of this go by and then one day I call in a typist. I dictate the entire book to her or him. The typist is a sort of editor in that he or she will tell me what is really terrible and what’s good, or what’s inconsistent and doesn’t make sense. I get together a whole version this way and then I stew over it some more. Eventually my editor reads it, and then he tells me to change things, and it goes on like that. If I write a page a day, I’m lucky. But I write less. And months go by without my writing at all, and I get very crazy when I write! Sick, physically.

Edmund White, The Art of Fiction No. 105, as Interviewed by Jordan Elgrably in The Paris Review No. 108, Fall 1988.

Edmund White – On The Impecunious Nature of The Writing Life

I always feel like my life is in a state of peril. If you saw my bank account you would understand why I say that. I never have enough money. I’m never sure that they are going to publish my next book. And I’m not sure literally. And it’s not just me worrying about things. It’s really true that I’m still shuffling between various publishing houses trying to find my way. So at age 70, I never feel like I can retire. I just received a kind of ominous letter by email from Princeton taking about my retirement but I thought they can’t make you retire. And I can’t afford to retire. So I’ll just go on and stagger on until I fall in my steps.

Edmund White – Writers at Work, Kansas City Public Library, Public Talk, 2010. [Transcribed by MN].


Novelist and critic Edmund White discusses his new memoir City Boy on February 22, 2010, at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St., Kansas City, MO.

White became immediately became involved with the publishing industry upon moving to New York from the Midwest in 1962 but struggled to get his own writing career off the ground. His first book Forgetting Elena was finally published in 1971, but sold only 600 copies.

In City Boy, White says he “longed for literary celebrity” and recalls how he overcame setbacks and his own insecurities to write 23 books, including A Boy’s Own Story — his autobiographical novel about growing up gay in the 1950s. He explains how “Fun City” became “Fear City” with the AIDS crisis and recalls meeting such legendary figures as Truman Capote and William S. Burroughs.


Listen to the full audio of this highly entertaining and very insightful talk about the trials and tribulations of writing life at: https://archive.org/details/EdmundWhiteCityBoy





Who, or what, is a flâneur?

By Marcus D. Niski

The flâneur – or the notion of the flâneur – is a creation of the nineteenth century Parisian streets. The flâneur is, by definition, an ‘exemplary stroller’ who strolls though the streets at a pace at which observation becomes the centrepoint of his or her experience.

As Edmund White suggests in his stunningly observant account of the flâneur and the ‘paradoxes of Paris’ *, Walter Benjamin was probably one of the most acute observers of the idea of the flâneur and one of literature’s most important writers in documenting the activities of this unique Parisian creature.

For Benjamin, the flâneur ultimately, is –

“… In search of experience, not knowledge…’ [Edmund White, p47]

The flâneur is also by definition not a tourist or pedestrian eager to rapidly ‘consume’ the landscape, but one who is almost overwhelmed by the delectable possibilities of the urban landscape; so much so that he or she is not really sure where to start or where the journey will take them.

Marcus D. Niski (2011)

 * Edmund White, The Flaneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris, Bloomsbury, London, 2001.