Wednesday, September 25th, 2019

The Writing is on the Wall


If you went to school in the United States, chances are you were made to read William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, or The Sound and the Fury, or Absalom Absalom at some point. And chances are you were either perplexed or mesmerized by the writing (maybe both). If you haven’t read him, it’s quite possible you’ve heard of him—he was a Nobel Prize-winning author and one of the most important American voices in Modern literature. He was born on this day in 1897.

William Faulkner in 1954, photographed by Carl Van Vechten. In the public domain.

I’m a big fan, so I fell down a Google rabbit hole about him this morning. I was surprised to learn that he didn’t outline his Pulitzer Prize-winning book A Fable on a notebook, notepad, or board. He did it directly on the walls of his house using graphite and red grease pencils! His house, Rowan Oak, was in Oxford, Mississippi, which was probably often hot. Legend has it that he had taped up the plot pages in his study, but got tired of having the big overhead fan blow them away. So he did away with the pages altogether and wrote on the walls. His wife had them repainted, so Faulkner simply rewrote the outline and shellacked it.

Chapter outlines on the walls of Faulkner’s study. In the public domain (via ALL ARTS).

I know this is a blog about notebooks, and I don’t recommend writing anything on the walls (use a big old No. 38 dotPad instead, especially if you’re renting), but I thought you’d like this little bit of literary trivia. It’s a great example of that strong need to outline and record our thoughts that we notebook lovers are all-too-familiar with.

I’ll leave you with this excerpt from a Paris Review interview with Faulkner in 1956, a few years after he won the Nobel Prize in Literature (via Medium):

“I think the writer, as I’ve said before, is completely amoral. He takes whatever he needs, wherever he needs, and he does that openly and honestly because he himself hopes that what he does will be good enough so that after him people will take from him, and they are welcome to take from him, as he feels that he would be welcome by the best of his predecessors to take what they had done.”

Another reason to save your notebooks, whether you’re a brilliant novelist or not.


2 thoughts on “The Writing is on the Wall

  1. My father went to Ole Miss during Faulkner’s time, and told me stories about visiting his house on several occasions due to his interest in a co-ed relative of Faulkner’s. He described Faulkner as “quite a character”.

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