The Parable of Writer James Joyce

The following story about James Joyce is told by Stephen King in his famous memoir, “On Writing” (which I need to read again).


James JoyceA friend came to visit James Joyce one day and found the great man sprawled across his writing desk in a posture of utter despair.

“James, what’s wrong?” the friend asked. “Is it the work?”

Joyce indicated assent without even raising his head to look at his friend. Of course it was the work; isn’t it always?

“How many words did you get today?”, the friend pursued.

Joyce (still in despair, still sprawled facedown on his desk) replied, “Seven.”

“Seven? But James… that’s good, at least for you.”

“Yes,” Joyce said, finally looking up, “I suppose it is but…I don’t know what order they go in!”


Writers know that it can be exactly like that some days. Sometimes you can even achieve a full page’s worth of words in a day, but you will sit there and agonize endlessly over whether all those words are in the best order they can be in to get your message or feeling across. It CAN be despairing when you want to convey something through the use of your written words and just don’t feel like you are talented enough or skillful enough to do so properly.

Thankfully, Joyce did manage to produce a few works of literary art of the highest level.

Despite our feeling otherwise, we can do so too.


About The Word Of Jeff

I'm a freelance writer and blogger who has written for, among others, Tribune Media Services, Suite101 and Athena Guides. As an intrepid traveler I have chronicled some of my travels at The Verbal Vagabond, my travel blog. And, being an avid amateur photographer, I also have a photography blog spotlighting photos I have taken of areas around my hometown at Postcards From Maggie Valley. Speaking of Maggie Valley, that is where my wife, our Golden Retriever/Border Collie mix, Bella, our Orange Tabby, Tigger and I live in a log cabin on a mountain in Western North Carolina, just at the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I enjoy hiking, camping, art, travel, photography (as mentioned above), and an occasional glass of good wine while reading or writing in front of the fireplace.
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