Wisdom from Chekhov… no, not that Chekhov

chekhov2.jpgMy father has recently retired after over three decades of teaching theater arts at the college level. In the flurry of cleaning out books and papers from his office a 1966 edition of the book “Playwrights on Playwriting” turned up which my mother grabbed and suggested he keep to give to me. I’ve been going through it and have enjoyed reading it. While it is about playwriting specifically, writing is writing, and story is story and so I’m finding a lot of it very interesting. And, while many of the names of those included are theater names, a few are names I’m familiar with outside of their playwriting: Anton Chekhov for instance.
An excerpt from his letters on writing:

To A. P. Chekhov, April 11, 1889
Try to be original in your play an as clever as possible; but don’t be afraid to show yourself foolish; we must have freedom of thinking, and only he is an emancipated thinker who is not afraid to write foolish things. Don’t round things out, don’t polish — but be awkward and impudent. Brevity is the sister of talent. Remember, by the way, that declarations of love, the infidelity of husbands and wives; widows’, orphans’, and all other tears, have long since been written up. The subject ought to be new, but there need be no “fable.” And the main thing is — father and mother must eat. Write. Flies purify the air, and plays — the morals.

3 thoughts on “Wisdom from Chekhov… no, not that Chekhov

  1. “Don’t round things out, don’t polish — but be awkward and impudent.”
    I have a feeling editors are looking at their slush pile and cursing Chekov for this sentence.

  2. I’m not sure I can buy all that advice. Avoid infidelity because it’s all been written before? Hogwash. That’s like saying don’t write a rock and roll song because the Stones have the market cornered. It’s all in how it is presented. Themes will be repeated throughout history; it’s the manner of telling that needs flare and originality.

  3. Jaye – For me it’s about finding the balance between “cleaning up the prose” and “wearing it down so much it loses it’s energy.”
    Scott – Interesting response. I actually read Chekhov’s suggestion as being similar to your comment: I thought he was saying “everything’s been written before, so do what you want instead of going for a cheap moral lesson.”

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