Anton Chekhov on Writing

"When you describe the miserable and unfortunate, and want to make the reader feel pity, try to be somewhat colder — that seems to give a kind of background to another's grief, against which it stands out more clearly. Whereas in your story the characters cry and you sigh. Yes, be more cold. ... The more objective you are, the stronger will be the impression you make. — To Lydia Avilova, March 19, 1892 & April 29, 1892
I will begin with what in my opinion is your lack of restraint. You are like a spectator in a theatre who expresses his enthusiasm so unrestrainedly that he prevents himself and others from hearing. That lack of restraint is particularly noticeable in the descriptions of nature with which you interrupt dialogues; when one reads them, these descriptions, one wishes they were more compact, shorter, say two or three lines. — To Maxim Gorky, December 3, 1898
Another piece of advice: when you read proof cross out as many adjectives and adverbs as you can. You have so many modifiers that the reader has trouble understanding and gets worn out. It is comprehensible when I write: 'The man sat on the grass,' because it is clear and does not detain one's attention. On the other hand, it is difficult to figure out and hard on the brain if I write: 'The tall, narrow-chested man of medium height and with a red beard sat down on the green grass that had already been trampled down by the pedestrians, sat down silently, looking around timidly and fearfully.' The brain can't grasp all that at once, and art must be grasped at once, instantaneously. And then one other thing. You are lyrical by nature, the timber of your soul is soft. If you were a composer you would avoid writing marches. It is unnatural for your talent to curse, shout, taunt, denounce with rage. Therefore, you'll understand if I advise you, in proofreading, to eliminate the 'sons of bitches,' 'curs,' and 'flea-bitten mutts' that appear here and there on the pages of Life. — To Maxim Gorky, September 3, 1899
Critics are like horse-flies which hinder the horses in their ploughing of the soil. The muscles of the horse are as taut as fiddle-strings, and suddenly a horse-fly alights on its croup, buzzing and stinging. The horse's skin quivers, it waves its tail. What is the fly buzzing about? It probably doesn't know itself. It simply has a restless nature and wants to make itself felt — 'I'm alive, too, you know!' it seems to say. 'Look, I know how to buzz, there's nothing I can't buzz about!' I've been reading reviews of my stories for twenty-five years, and can't remember a single useful point in any of them, or the slightest good advice. The only reviewer who ever made an impression on me was Skabichevsky, who prophesied that I would die drunk in the bottom of a ditch. — Quoted by Maxim Gorky in 'Anton Chekhov,' On Literature
If there is a gun hanging on the wall in the first act, it must fire in the last.
... only he is an emancipated thinker who is not afraid to write foolish things.
But if you had asked him what his work was, he would look candidly and openly at you with his large bright eyes through his gold pincenez, and would answer in a soft, velvety, lisping baritone: 'My work is literature.' — 'Excellent People'
I think descriptions of nature should be very short and always be à propos. Commonplaces like 'The setting sun, sinking into the waves of the darkening sea, cast its purple gold rays, etc,' 'Swallows, flitting over the surface of the water, twittered gaily' — eliminate such commonplaces. You have to choose small details in describing nature, grouping them in such a way that if you close your eyes after reading it you can picture the whole thing. For example, you'll get a picture of a moonlit night if you write that on the dam of the mill a piece of broken bottle flashed like a bright star and the black shadow of a dog or a wolf rolled by like a ball, etc. ... In the realm of psychology you also need details. God preserve you from commonplaces. Best of all, shun all descriptions of the characters' spiritual state. You must try to have that state emerge clearly from their actions. Don't try for too many characters. The center of gravity should reside in two: he and she. — To AP Chekhov, May 10, 1886
A writer is not a confectioner, a cosmetic dealer, or an entertainer. He is a man who has signed a contract with his conscience and his sense of duty.I long to embrace, to include in my own short life, all that is accessible to man. I long to speak, to read, to wield a hammer in a great factory, to keep watch at sea, to plow. I want to be walking along the Nevsky Prospect, or in the open fields, or on the ocean — wherever my imagination ranges. — Anton Chekhov
NCW--Anton Chekhov on Writing

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