On Writing and Reading
“You can’t write well until you’ve written badly.”
The Norwegian writer offers a unique glimpse into her creative mind when writing and reading to become a better writer. Read more …
Stories and books were an essential part of Linn Ullmann’s childhood. “The play was a kind of storytelling, that’s what play is, a kind of storytelling, a narrative. I was alone a lot. I traveled with my mother, so playing and storytelling started very early.”
“Writing must involve some degree of play, but it’s also a question of life and death”.
When thinking about writing, Linn Ullmann usually has an image of Buster Keaton on the one hand and Virginia Woolf on the other. She finds that writing is about the combination of play and seriousness, or as Ullmann quotes Hjalmar Söderberg: “a serious game”.
“I have a sign that I wrote to myself hanging over my desk. It’s a quotation from Virginia Woolf. She is talking about language: ‘Writing is quite simply a question of finding the right words and placing them in the right order.’”
“Sometimes a year may pass or two or three where you don’t get it because writing is exactly about finding a form, a structure, a choreography, an architecture, a composition. You may have the world’s best story or plot or idea but without a form – which is about structure but also about rhythm, silence, pauses, colors, so that you know what it actually looks like – without that the world’s best story is completely uninteresting. And then it is about finding the precise word and being in the language in an honest way.”
“I’ve become very tired of metaphors and symbols. I prefer not to use metaphors anymore in what I write. That which it says is what it says. That’s what’s there. I most like books that are: What it says is what it is. What’s true is what happens in language”.
“It takes a lot of time before you learn to accept your own bad writing, but you can’t write well until you’ve written badly “ A writer’s block is actually good. It comes to you and says “Here’s something you have to figure out”. You can be sure that a writer who never has writer’s block and just experiences a constant flow – nothing good comes from that.”
“I realize more and more the older I get and the longer I’m into this game that writing is a collaborative exercise. Reading others becomes more and more important to me and somehow makes me understand that I’m one voice in a choir trying to find the right words in the right order. I like thinking that I am part of this choir of living and dead who has experienced life and experienced things that may be difficult.”
“It is often said that writing is so lonely and in many ways, it is lonely but there exists a buzzing choir of voices and being together in that choir is for me a fine way of thinking of writing.”
Linn Ullmann (b. 1966) is a Norwegian author, journalist and literary critic. She published her first novel, ’Before You Sleep’ in 1998 and has since published five critically acclaimed international bestsellers. She has received several prizes for her work, including the Gold Pen and the Norwegian Reader’s Prize. Her t novel, ’Unquiet’, published in 2016 was nominated for the Critic’s Award and the Nordic Council’s Literary Award.
Klaus Rothstein interviewed Linn Ullmann in August 2022 in connection with the Louisiana Literature festival at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark.
Camera: Rasmus Quistgaard
Edit: Signe Boe Pedersen
Produced by Christian Lund
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2023
Louisiana Channel is supported by Den A.P. Møllerske Støttefond, Ny Carlsbergfondet and C.L. Davids Fond og Samling.
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