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.


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