Advice From Robert Anderson That Applies Mostly to Writing Fiction

I tell my students that writing is like painting. At first the painter looks back and forth—from his canvas to the bowl of flowers he is painting on the canvas. But finally his total concentration is focused on what is in front of him on the easel, and it may barely resemble the bowl of flowers.

The same holds true in writing. The writer draws from memory, imagination, and experience, then they melt together and fuse. The best writing, I think, is full of lies that tell the truth.

—Robert Anderson, writer of plays, screenplays, and books.
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From an earlier post “Finding Poetry in Plays, Movies, and Journalism” about Robert Anderson:

While working as a magazine editor, I had a sentence typed on a small square of paper and tacked up near my desk:

Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship,

which struggles on in the survivor’s mind

toward some resolution,

some clear meaning,

which it perhaps never finds.

It’s spoken at the beginning of the play, I Never Sang for My Father. A middle-aged son is returning home to see his father, a difficult man nearing the end of his life, and the son is giving the audience a sense of what’s coming. The play, written by Robert Anderson, opened on Broadway in 1968 and became an Oscar-winning movie.

The sentence captured how I felt about my father and I loved how it flowed, how it seemed to have some of the poetry that magazine writing should have.

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