Brain Pickings

The Quartet of Creativity: 28-Year-Old Susan Sontag on the Four People a Great Writer Must Be

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“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:

  1. The nut, the obsédé
  2. The moron
  3. The stylist
  4. 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.”)

Pair this list with Ezra Pound on the 6 types of writers — even though Sontag famously listed Pound among her dislikes.

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.

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