“A great writer has all 4 — but you can still be a good writer with only 1 and 2.”
The most recently released volume of Susan Sontag’s diaries, As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980 — which was among the best psychology and philosophy books of 2012 — gave us the author’s collected insights on writing. But the journals of Sontag’s younger self, Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963 (public library), offer another fine addition to the collected wisdom of history’s greatest authors.
In an entry dated December 3, 1961, twenty-eight-year-old Sontag itemizes:
The writer must be four people:
- The nut, the obsédé
- The moron
- The stylist
- The critic
1 supplies the material; 2 lets it come out; 3 is taste; 4 is intelligence*.
A great writer has all 4 — but you can still be a good writer with only 1 and 2; they’re most important.
(* A bit of a redundancy between 3 and 4, since Sontag once observed, “Intelligence … is really a kind of taste: taste in ideas.”)
Reborn — which has given us Sontag’s insights on art, marriage, and life, as well as her 10 rules for raising a child, her duties for being 24, and her list of beliefs at ages 14 vs. 24 — is full of such wonderful meditations, at once irreverent and profound.