Read it four times

How much of your writing is based on personal experience?

I can’t say. I never counted up. Because “how much” is not
important. A writer needs three things, experience, observation,
and imagination—any two of which, at times any one of which—
can supply the lack of the others. With me, a story usually begins
with a single idea or memory or mental picture. The writing of the
story is simply a matter of working up to that moment, to explain
why it happened or what it caused to follow. A writer is trying to
create believable people in credible moving situations in the most
moving way he can. Obviously he must use as one of his tools the
environment which he knows. I would say that music is the easiest
means in which to express, since it came first in man’s experience
and history. But since words are my talent, I must try to express
clumsily in words what the pure music would have done better.
That is, music would express better and simpler, but I prefer to use
words, as I prefer to read rather than listen. I prefer silence to
sound, and the image produced by words occurs in silence. That is,
the thunder and the music of the prose take place in silence.

Some people say they can’t understand your writing, even after
they read it two or three times. What approach would you suggest
for them?

Read it four times.

You mentioned experience, observation, and imagination as
being important for the writer. Would you include inspiration?

I don’t know anything about inspiration because I don’t know
what inspiration is —I’ve heard about it, but I never saw it.

What were the kinds of work you were doing to earn that
“little money now and then”?

Whatever came up. I could do a little of almost anything—run
boats, paint houses, fly airplanes. I never needed much money
because living was cheap in New Orleans then, and all I wanted
was a place to sleep, a little food, tobacco, and whiskey. There
were many things I could do for two or three days and earn
enough money to live on for the rest of the month. By temperament
I’m a vagabond and a tramp. I don’t want money badly
enough to work for it. In my opinion it’s a shame that there is so
much work in the world. One of the saddest things is that the only
thing a man can do for eight hours a day, day after day, is work.
You can’t eat eight hours a day nor drink for eight hours a day nor
make love for eight hours—all you can do for eight hours is work.
Which is the reason why man makes himself and everybody else so
miserable and unhappy.

The Paris Review – The Art of Fiction No. 12