Maya Angelou on Writing

The great autobiographer, poet, short-story writer, screenwriter and journalist Maya Angelou offers her own view on ideas when starting a new writing project as told to Sheila Weller in an interview:

It starts with a definite subject, but it might end with something entirely different. When I start a project, the first thing I do is write down, in longhand, everything I know about the subject, every thought I’ve had on it. This may be twelve or fourteen pages. Then I read it back through, for quite a few days, and find–given that subject–what its rhythm is. ‘Cause everything in the universe has a rhythm. So if it’s free form, it still has a rhythm. And once I hear the rhythm of the piece, then I try to find out what are the salient points that I must make. And then it begins to take shape.

I try to set myself up in each chapter by saying: “This is what I want to go from–from B or , say G-sharp. Or from D to L.” And then I find the hook. It’s like the knitting, where, after you knit a certain amount, there’s one thread that begins to pull. You know, you can see it right along the cloth. Well, in writing, I think: “Now where is that one hook, that one little thread?” It may be a sentence. If I can catch that, then I’m home free. It’s the one that tells me where I’m going. It may not even turn out to be in the final chapter. I may throw it out later or change it. But if I follow it through, it leads me right out.

One thinks about the universal rhythm of everything…and one wonders if all this is wasting time and thought, more than it’s worth…

perhaps not…

Source: The Bedford Reader

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