Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams

This is what Tennessee Williams had to say on how to write a play but I think it could apply pretty much to any kind of writing. This is from an entry in his journal dated 5 October 1941:

“I believe that the way to write a good play is to convince yourself that it is easy to do – then go ahead and do it with ease.

Don’t maul, don’t suffer, don’t groan – til the first draft is finished.

Then Calvary – but not til then.

Doubt and be lost until the first draft is finished

A play is a Phoenix – it dies a thousand deaths.

Usually at night – In the morning it springs up again from the ashes and crows like a happy rooster.

It is never as bad as you think.

It is never as good as you think.

It is somewhere in between and success or failure depends on which end of your emotional gamut concerning its value it actually approaches most closely.

But it is much more likely to be good if you think it is wonderful while you are writing the first draft.

An artist must believe in himself … our belief is contagious. Others say – He is vain – but they are affected.

I have never had much of that faith – I have been a little too honest with myself and people.”

I went to see A Streetcar Named Desire  a while back with Gillian Anderson playing the main role. I had seen clips of the famous Brando film version before but never seen the play all the way through. It is an incredible desolate piece of work. I came away from it thinking how on earth do you write something like that? Tennessee Williams’ journals are riddled with self-doubt, a lot of the time he is terrified and anxious and pursued by ‘blue devils’. He drinks too much coffee and alcohol, he takes too many drugs and does a lot of ‘chasing the nightingales’ his lovely expression for cruising. And he wrote the most extraordinary plays. I like what he has to say here about writing but  I also like the fact that he says he has never had much faith. He’s telling himself what to do but at the same time he’s admitting, Look, I know what I should do but I struggle to do it. So the last line is the one that helps me most.

What do you think of what he writes here? And how’s your life/writing going? Phoenix or Rooster? Faith or Desolation?


  1. Writing is such ‘Emperor’s new clothes’ – sometimes I cannot believe how good I thought something was at the time I wrote it. But then, I don’t think I’ve ever written knowing it was no good – you have to believe it’s good otherwise why would we do it? The toughest part is going back to what you have written and weeding the plot, as it were (and sometimes slashing and burning).

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Colin – yes, the old slash and burn or in my case knowing when to let go. I’m much better at beginning novels than ending them, that’s for sure but that’s probably because I’m not really a plotter as such more a ‘let’s see where this takes me’ writer. That get’s a bit tricky at the end.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful post, Victoria!
    You can see Williams’ immense talent just from these points – they are most pictorial in their expression.

    It seems to me that you could apply this approach to almost any form of creative art – it certainly rang bells with me and my painting process. I also have the experience of leaving the paintings and coming back the next day and they have changed. I like to think the elves have been in overnight …

    ‘It is never as bad as you think … It is never as good as you think.’ Yes!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment. It’s good stuff, isn’t it? How lovely to have the elves in! I need some right now – writing elves that is!!! Just to finish a book. No big deal. Just the last 5-10,000 word or so.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s always good to know that the greats have the same self-doubts that we do. Sometimes I think I’ve written something good and when I re-read it I think it’s terrible – and vice versa – so I think he’s probably right in that it’s usually somewhere in the middle!

    Liked by 1 person

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