“Writing, for me, is about rewriting, patience, endless deliberation over what to say next, and conserving what I’ve already written. That’s the work ethic I’ve adopted.”Tweet
– Orhan Pamuk
This extract from The Innocence of Memories, a short compilation of Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk’s thoughts, memories and reflections, touches on his relationship to writing. A self-proclaimed hand-writer who never made it to the keyboard, Pamuk’s writing habit has stayed the same despite the conventions of our time. In this short excerpt, Pamuk also reflects on the history of poetry writing in the Ottoman Empire, and the ways in which poetry has been valued over the novel in more recent times.
Sometimes I think I must be the last person left who still writes by hand. But I know there are other writers like me who still do that. When I was younger, I thought typewriters were for journalists, and as I was a writer, I needn’t bother. By the time computers appeared, I’d been writing for a long time, and I didn’t want to change my habits. I write very slowly. I can toil for a day and come away with half a page or a page at most. I didn’t want to spend all day staring at a computer as if it were a miniature aquarium. The first computer screens made my eyes water. Maybe that’s why I never managed to make the switch. But I’m all right with that.
I write by hand, patiently, my eyes always on the page. I take pleasure in watching the pen advance over the page like a paintbrush, in the smell of ink and paper, in the sight of the scattered sheets, erasers, and scraps of paper around me. I write a little, and then I go back over it to make corrections. When the page becomes too messy, I tear it off and write it out again, and again, and again. Writing, for me, is about rewriting, patience, endless deliberation over what to say next, and conserving what I’ve already written. That’s the work ethic I’ve adopted.
In the Ottoman era, poets were respected figures. Not every Ottoman sultan was a poet, but about a third of them thought about producing a collection of poetry, perhaps written with the help of well-paid master poets of the time.
“I didn’t want to spend all day staring at a computer as if it were a miniature aquarium. The first computer screens made my eyes water. Maybe that’s why I never managed to make the switch. But I’m all right with that.”
There was an abundance of poets in the upper echelons of Ottoman society, among ministers, grand viziers, and religious scholars. Putting together a divan, a collection of poetry, signalled a certain level of education, refinement, and cultural elevation. That explains why so many Ottoman sultans wrote poetry regardless of whether they had any talent for it: to demonstrate that they had mastered the poetic conventions of their time. They would write poetry collections to prove they were able to write something meaningful while still respecting those conventions, and in doing so would bolster their intellectual credentials. No wonder being a poet in Ottoman times was a source of distinction. To this day, being a novelist, a storyteller, is not deemed as prestigious an occupation. When I first started writing, novelists in Turkey were perceived as being basically like clerks who sit and write all day! Poets, on the other hand, were seen as venerable figures with important things to say, who received their words straight from God. Those who wrote novels were not so gifted, and had to labour instead like patient ants, marathon runners on a never-ending course. Writing novels was also seen as a less innovative occupation. This, together with the familiarisation of the classic nineteenth-century novel, and a disdain for the more unconventional and experimental, modern and postmodern kind of writing I favoured, has resulted in fiction writers being regarded as lesser beings compared to poets. That suits me. When I first started writing, even I saw myself as a kind of clerk, and my ambition was to take the things I saw around me and place them in orderly fashion within the framework of a longer narrative. Sure, I wanted to experiment. But I’ve always eschewed the exalted roles, the vigorous intellectual stances our poets have traditionally embraced.
From: The Innocence of Memories