Joyce Carol Oates on The Transcendent Aspect of Writing (1978)

“One must be pitiless about this matter of ‘mood’. In a sense, the writing will create the mood. If art is, as I believe it to be, a genuinely transcendental function – a means by which we rise out of limited, parochial states of mind – then it should not matter very much what states of mind or emotion we are in. Generally I’ve found this to be true: I have forced myself to begin writing when I’ve been utterly exhausted, when I’ve felt my soul as thin as a playing card, when nothing has seemed worth enduring for another five minutes . . . and somehow the activity of writing changes everything. Or appears to do so. Joyce said of the underlying structure of Ulysses – the Odyssean parallel and parody – that he really didn’t care whether it was plausible so long as it served as a bridge to get his ‘soldiers’ across. Once they were across, what does it matter if the bridge collapses? One might say the same thing about the use of one’s self as a means for the writing to get written. Once the soldiers are across the stream . . .”