The True Value of the Dangerous Dream

Faulkner’s typwriter

Words of Wisdom from William Faulkner
By Elizabeth Cutright
© 2012 The Daily Creative Writer

“A dream is not a very safe thing to be near… I know; I had one once. It’s like a loaded pistol with a hair trigger: if it stays alive long enough, somebody is going to be hurt. But if it’s a good dream, it’s worth it.” William Faulkner

Honesty.  Integrity.  A commitment to not just accepting freedom as a right, but practicing freedom every day. Living in the moment.  Cultivating dreams.  Copious amounts of liquor.

Reading over some of William Faulkner’s advice on writing and life during his birthday week (Faulkner was born on September 25th, 1897), I was struck by how much he emphasized the need for wholehearted commitment to authenticity and self-determination.  It’s not enough to just believe you’re entitled to self expression, independent thought and equal opportunity, you must commit to these beliefs, live in them everyday, wear them like tattered old leather jackets molded to a perfect fit.

“We must be free not because we claim freedom,” said Faulkner, “but because we practice it.”

“So, never be afraid. Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion, against injustice and lying and greed,” Faulkner told the graduating class of University High School in Oxford, Mississippi back in 1951.  “If you, not just you in this room tonight, but in all the thousands of other rooms like this one about the world today and tomorrow and next week, will do this, not as a class or classes, but as individuals, men and women, you will change the earth.”

Or put more succinctly, ““You can’t have freedom unless you deserve it and work to keep it.”

Faulkner believed in action, but he believed in intent as well.  He advocated dreaming big and aspiring for accomplishments that appear impossibly beyond reach. “Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do,” Faulkner advised. “Do not bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”

Be better than yourself, and keep trying…keep angling for improvement.  Do not be deferred by failure.

“All of us failed to match our dream of perfection,” said Faulkner in an interview with The Paris Review in 1956, “So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible. In my opinion, if I could write all my work again, I am convinced that I would do it better, which is the healthiest condition for an artist. That’s why he keeps on working, trying again; he believes each time that this time he will do it, bring it off. Of course he won’t, which is why this condition is healthy.”

As for advice specific to the aspiring writer, Faulkner recommends reading voraciously.

“Read, read, read. Read everything —trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.” (Statement at the University of Mississippi, 1947)

And once you’ve covered some of the classics, and some of those “banned texts” that seem to find their way into potential bonfires every year (September 30th through October 6th happens to be Banned Book Month, check out frequently banned books here).

Faulkner believed that training and patience were important supplements to raw talent, “try and to try until it comes right.”  Through trial and error, you can learn to focus on your craft by trying on different methods and making new, unexpected choices   Experiment with words and language because, as Faulkner wisely intones,  “[A]ny language if it is not changing will not last long. That is, the only alternative to change and progress is death.”

Additionally, the aspiring writer must learn to remove emotion from the final result – that last edit should be clinical and efficient. “He must train himself in ruthless intolerance,” wrote Faulkner, explaining how emotionless perspective can be an asset.  The young writer must “throw away anything that is false no matter how much he might love that page or that paragraph. The most important thing is insight, that is to be — curious — to wonder, to mull, and to muse why it is that man does what he does, and if you have that, then I don’t think the talent makes much difference, whether you’ve got it or not.”

Some other notable bon mots from Mr. Faulkner:

  • “There is no such thing as bad whiskey. Some whiskeys just happen to be better than others. But a man shouldn’t fool with booze until he’s fifty; then he’s a damn fool if he doesn’t.”
  • “Unless you’re ashamed of yourself now and then, you’re not honest.”
  • “Pouring out liquor is like burning books.”
  • “[M]y idea is that no person is wholly good or wholly bad, that all people in my belief try to be better than they are and probably will be.”
  • “I doubt if people accomplish very much by banding together. People accomplish things by individual protest.”
  • “Life is motion, and motion is concerned with what makes man move — which is ambition, power, pleasure.”
  • “What matters is at the end of life, when you’re about to pass into oblivion, that you’ve at least scratched ‘Kilroy was here,’ on the last wall of the universe.”

And thanks to Flavorwire for collecting these Faulkner quotes.

You can watch the film adaptation of Faulkner’s The Long Hot Summer on Netflix streaming.

Here’s the preview of what was, arguably, one of the sexiest pairings of Woodward and Newman

All original content is the sole property of Elizabeth Cutright and The Daily Creative Writer. If you are reading this blog on another website, it has been reposted without the author’s permission in violation of the DMCA. © 2012 The Daily Creative Writer

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