Why Do Writers Write? Where Do Their Ideas Come From?
By Shlomo Maital
 
Amos Oz
   What’s in an Apple?  Six Conversations about Writing and about Love, about Guilt and Other Pleasures.  Amos Oz with Shira Hadad   (Keter – Hebrew, May 2018).

 I write and teach about  creativity.  The key question, where do ideas come from?, has always fascinated me.  This book (so far, only in Hebrew),  answers that question for one especially talented writer, Israel’s greatest novelist Amos Oz.  His editor Shira Hadad, who knows his books better than Amos himself, asked him hard questions and recorded the answers. 
   Amos Oz  is 79.  His work has been published in 45 languages in 47 countries.   He was short listed for the Mann Booker Prize and is purported to be a candidate for a Nobel Prize.   His latest work is Judas (2014).  His book A Tale of Love and Darkness was made into a movie.
Here are a few quotes, that I have translated…:
  Oz recounts that he was an only child, and his parents would bring him to a Jerusalem coffee shop, swearing him to silence, promising him that if he did not bother their conversation with friends, he would get a rare treat, ice cream.  So Oz recounts, he became a ‘spy’,  listening to conversations, and weaving stories based on them.   “My first motivation was to think, what would I feel, if I were they, If I were he, If I were she…  I was an only child, did not have friends…I simply began to ‘spy’ on the people sitting at nearby tables….”
    “[famous Israeli author A.B. Yehoshua] –  I have an issue with him.  He places the moral question, crime and punishment, at the center of his works.  I think about the moral issue in a different way —  I put myself in others’ shoes, for a few hours, or inside their skin… I believe that a curious person is even a better [marriage] partner than  a non-curious one…and even a better driver! (you are always thinking what the other guy will do!).   ..There is also ‘dark curiosity’.  About those who injure others, to see them suffer….”
“Usually I write out of anger.  I get angry about something. And curiosity is not only a necessary condition for intellectual endeavors, it also has moral virtue.”
    Oz recounts that he rises at 4 a.m.,  and even before coffee,  goes out into the dark streets of Jerusalem for a walk.  He returns at 4:45, has coffee, and then begins to write, for 3-4 hours.  Every single day.  Not a miss..  Sometimes he sees lights on in windows, and wonders about those inside…  He writes endless drafts, sometimes 10 or even 15 of them, by hand  …discards the bad ones, picks the best…and tears the rest into tiny pieces and flushes them down the toilet, lest someone discover them. (Kafka, he observes, ordered his executor and friend Max Brod to burn ALL his manuscripts. Brod, luckily, refused.  Oz says, if you want to destroy your work, do it yourself. If you ask someone else to do it, they won’t…). 
  Oz says that he writes about the past.. this is the natural time to write about, not the present, or the future.  “Story” he says, is part of the word “history”.  He does not like to read his own books.. because he always knows he could have done better. 
   One of his earliest books was My Michael (1968).  So Oz has been writing productively for over 50 years, and is still writing, at age 79. 

   How does he know if his work of fiction is ready to publish?   If, he says, his characters argue with him, dispute him, take on their own lives.  If I tell them what to do too easily, he says, it doesn’t work.  I refuse to write a certain scene. My character says, write it!  I say, No!  My character says, don’t tell me what to do!   This is when I know the work is going well, he recounts. 
     Oz is politically left.  So are David Grossman, A.B. Yehoshua and David Grossman, the other great Israeli writers.
      Why, I wonder, are great authors almost always liberal and left politically?  I guess the answer is simple.  Great writers have incredibly sensitive empathy for other people and for their suffering.  So they feel the suffering of their ‘foes’ and want to reduce or eliminate it. 

     Those on the right seem rather inured to this suffering.  Too bad.  

 

 

 

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