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Setting one’s literary standards

The Fish Can SingIn Iceland, a century ago, an older woman dictates a letter to Álfgrímur.

It was going to be a long-drawn-out business to compose this document. The woman was so fastidious in her choice of words that she made me cross it all out as fast as I wrote it down.

“We’ll tear up this awful rubbish,” she would say. And the few lines we had been struggling to compose for most of the day were consigned to oblivion. We went on like that for days on end. We never succeeded in expressing meticulously enough the kind of slops the calf was to be fed. By nightfall we were so exhausted that we were almost in a coma; and then we tore up the whole day’s output. This woman must surely have been descended from Snorri Sturluson. One thing is certain, that she never deviated from the most stringent standards of Icelandic prose style. Often when I myself am writing something, this woman comes to my mind again. Unfortunately, she failed to realize that one can set one’s literary standards so high that it becomes impossible to utter a single word or groan except at the very most to say A-a-a. Often these letter-writing sessions would end with the woman taking a fit. I would leave the cubicle, defeated, with the pen and stationary, and close the door.

from The Fish Can Sing, by Icelandic Nobel Prize winner Hálldor Laxness

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Sí, seguramente no haya nada peor para escribir que ponerse estándares demasiado elevados: bloqueo garantizado.