Highsmith Shows the Way to Writing Success

Diary 5/26 to 5/27/22: Body image; McGovern on nuclear war; peculiar dream; writing success; Graham Greene on Highsmith; pointless bus rides; school massacre; Family Guy.

Screen capture, so links don’t work

Copyright 2022 (text only) by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

{5/26/22} Continued.

From Neuroscience News:  “The Cinderella Project aims to restore positive body image for survivors of breast cancer following mastectomy and reconstructive surgeries.”

Another reply from “SoundEagle” went into my spam folder.  I approved it and then responded, spending about ninety minutes on a reply.  This reply is no longer available to me, and I have no idea whether they received it or not. [I blame WordPress.]

Listened to a talk by Ray McGovern on prospects of a nuclear war over Ukraine.  Since I was also leafing through a book at the same time, I didn’t really get anything out of it except that he says that Russiagate was a hoax, Russia did not hack into the DNC server.  I have yet to form an opinion about this issue, not having taken the time to check out the complex story.  Since I already hate Republicans and support Democrats grudgingly, having no better option, it really doesn’t matter who is lying here.


A peculiar dream this morning.  I was devising a method of encrypting text files to keep records for a criminal enterprise.  There were no visual images, unless perhaps some images of text on a computer screen.  The method I came up with required three passwords for decryption and involved replacing the most common short words with some sequence of letters, then breaking the resulting text into digraphs (i.e., chunks of two letters each), and encrypting the text digraphs-by-digraph (example:  “aa” would be replaced throughout the text by something like “fl”, then “ab” replaced by “fm”, and so on), then mixing the resulting [text] according to usual transposition cipher methods (as described in Helen Gaines:  Cryptanalysis: A Study of Ciphers and Their Solution), and finally using a simple substitution code.  Some such combination of methods would be extremely difficult to decipher, even if one knew ahead of time what methods were being used.

I dreamt about this problem, then, while awake, thought further about how extremely devious codes might be devised, and the dangers of getting gibberish if one made a mistake in the encrypting; of course, I know nothing about the modern methods that go well beyond that old but extremely interesting book.

“Writing”–Photo by Todoran Bogdan on Pexels.com

I am happy to say that I’ve been writing fiction, slowly but steadily (about a page a day for the last week), again trying with TLC with no end in sight.  The point is not so much to get written an unpublishable book, as to satisfy the craving to be writing fiction at all.  When I don’t write even this little amount, I am dissatisfied with myself, bored, and depressed; when I do write, I am pleased and happy.  When the writing eventually clicks, I will be writing much more than a page a day.  If in the end it means nothing more than, say, solved sudoku puzzles, it doesn’t really matter.  And it may be that the final result is, or can be made, publishable after all.  At any rate, it will for a while get me to stop whining about how I’m not writing.

Virginia Woolf said that the secret was to so devise it that your writing was pleasurable, and Patricia Highsmith said something similar; I seem to have found a way to do that, at least for a while.  In checking just now, there are two quotes from Highsmith that might be what I was thinking about:

“5/27/50.  The happy fact for me at this date, May 27, 1950, is that the pleasant way of writing, the most entertaining and at the same time the most profound, is also the best writing for me.  When I worry and rearrange, I always fail and always write badly.”  p. 485.

“6/6/50. Today I fell madly in love with my Carol [a fictional character].  What finer thing can there be but to fling the sharpest point of my strength into her creation day after day?  And at night, be exhausted.  I want to spend all my time, all my evenings with her.  I want to be faithful to her.  How can I be otherwise?” p. 487.

When I fell madly in love with one of my characters, the writing experience became what I’ve come to think of as “mentally orgasmic.”  It was that intense; I was carried away on clouds of hormones or something.  It was as close as I ever hope to being in love again, like I was once with a real person.  But I made the mistake of stopping, and have not been able to recapture that rapture; but I anticipate its return as soon as I again get to introducing that character to my protagonist (I am currently writing necessary preliminary material).  He is about to meet her, but his situation is different, so the introduction cannot go where it did the first time.  It will be slower, and I will intentionally slow it down further, thus hopefully solving the “problem” of writing “too few pages.”

Graham Greene is quoted on the back of the Highsmith diaries:  “[Highsmith’s] characters are irrational, and they leap to life in their very lack of reason; suddenly we realize how unbelievably rational most fictional characters are…. Highsmith is the poet of apprehension rather than fear.”

Got a “like” today on my blog of the post called “My Taoism: Diary, 3/27 to 3/28/22” and reread it.  The 3/28 part would make an interesting subject for discussion today with Dr. Hill (I’m due there at noon, so I will be leaving shortly after breakfast).  It’s not unlikely that I already had her read it, however…

When I was sitting in the lobby to see Dr. Hill, I got a call that she had had to cancel; so I ended up riding four buses for nothing.  And I had taken my Robby the Robot mechanical toy to show to her, because it’s amusing.

“Robby the Robot” of Forbidden Planet

The news on MSNBC has been nothing but the massacre at the Robb Elementary School, which I don’t generally watch.  The futility of the discussion is overwhelming, and when they show names and photos of the victims, it’s too sad.  Of course Congress will do nothing—why do the coiffures pretend otherwise?

So I watched a number of episodes of Family Guy, including a few that I’ve seen before.  And I had a nap, lunch, dinner (salmon), ice cream.  If I can’t find anything more interesting than this, I shouldn’t bother writing at all.  Better if I work on the story.

Copyright 2022 (text only) by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

2 thoughts on “Highsmith Shows the Way to Writing Success

  1. Dear Alan,

    “Robby the Robot” of Forbidden Planet has some resemblance to the Robot Model B-9 in the television series Lost in Space.

    I also share with you certain writing experiences that sometimes amount to “mental orgasms”. This can also happen to me when composing certain musical compositions.

    Since you are writing what seems to be a fictional novel or something similar, I would like to offer you some of my useful toolkits, one of which is a comprehensive resource designed for writers, editors, publishers and reviewers who wish to systematically evaluate and determine the quality of a book or manuscript, whether it is written by themselves or others. It is available at


    The said Manuscript Assessment Criteria page provides a complete checklist for writers to evaluate and inspect their own works (either by themselves or with a group of readers or editors) before submitting their manuscripts to publishers, and also during successive edits after the previous submission(s) and before the next submission.

    Please enjoy the resource to your heart’s content. You are very welcome to submit your feedback in the comment section there, should you think of something for me to include in the Manuscript Assessment Criteria, or if you have something to say about it.

    I hope that you have found my Manuscript Assessment Criteria to be potentially very helpful in the conception, development and production of your oeuvres, whether they are fictions or non-fictions.

    Yours sincerely,


  2. Hi SoundEagle:
    Thank you for your comments. I did indeed check out your “Manuscript Assessment Criteria.” It’s an impressive piece of work and it seems very thorough, it looks like a “labor of love,” as everything does on your website that I’ve seen. I don’t expect to make use of the Criteria–the one book that I’ve written, I can’t stand the sight of it, after having worked on it for perhaps ten years (off and on, of course). I have yet to submit it for publication.
    Sincerely and in friendship,

    Liked by 1 person

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