The End Of Words

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2023-01-22 21:00:00 No comments

Here's an admission to break hearts. In 1957, four years before his death of lung cancer, and long after his career had gone into its sad extended twilight, Dashiell Hammett told an interviewer, "I stopped writing because I found I was repeating myself. It's the beginning of the end when you discover you have style."

Hammett felt trapped inside the thing named "Dashiell Hammett", as Robert Polito noted in his introduction to a collection of Hammett's novels for Everyman's Library. He barely wrote a thing after 1934, and even the whirlwind events of his life after that date are difficult to accept as the reason for such creative desolation. He had run out of things to say, and he knew it, and somehow nothing that happened to him from '34 on gave him something new to say.

When I read those words "I found I was repeating myself", I could only think of what I myself have felt time and again: I too fear repeating myself. I never wanted to write the same story twice if I could help it, or write another story in a previously used setting or with previously used characters. Starting entirely fresh each time gave me the most freedom to do justice to the ideas that came, it seemed. It meant the least amount of legacy weight holding me back. Two of my SF idols, Cliff Simak and Philip K. Dick, had operated in this mode, and the great lesson I'd learned from both of them was how each story could be its own self-contained "sandbox" for your ideas.

I too have feared that one day I would find I had nothing left to say. But each time I've come close to such a feeling, I was able to veer away from it by digging into a new place within myself and saying, "See? You haven't touched any of this yet." I have, I hope, not yet become too bricked up in myself to see what else is possible. With any luck I won't ever be. Maybe because I share with Luis Buñuel the sentiment that the worst thing about dying is not being able to read tomorrow's newspaper. Somehow, somewhere, there is always something new to be said.

Tags: Dashiell Hammett writers writing