W. G. Sebald on Being a Writer

W. G. Sebald
W. G. Sebald
From a 2000 interview by Jens Mühling

Sebald: Being a writer is by no means an easy profession. It is full of difficulties, full of obstacles. For a start, there is the psychology of the author, which is not a simple one. There are these situations when suddenly nothing seems to work anymore, when you feel unable to say anything. In such cases it is very helpful if someone can tell you that this happens to everybody, and show you how one might deal with such problems. In these situations it is very often the case that people neglect the research aspect. Every writer knows that sometimes the best ideas come to you while you are reading something else, say, something about Bismarck, and then suddenly, somewhere between the lines, your head starts drifting, and you arrive at the ideas you need. This research, this kind of disorderly research, so to speak, is the best way of coping with these difficulties. If you sit in front of a blank sheet of paper like a frightened rabbit, things won’t change. In such situations you just have to let it be for a while.

Another important psychological problem occurs the very moment a publisher shows interest in your first manuscript. That is a most vulnerable situation for a writer. The publisher presents you with some contract, and you will sign anything, without thinking about the consequences, if only it helps to get your book published. It is very important to remind students that there are certain rules for such contracts – not many, but there are some. For example, you should never sign a contract for life, you should only sell the rights for the hardback edition, and so on. If you sign that standard contract that is used in England and Germany and anywhere else today, you will lose lots of money, which is something that few people know about. If you become a dentist, the way you earn your money is all regulated. But if you become a writer, you have to sort it all out for yourself. [Read More]

Read the Full Interview at Vertigo: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3


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