Category Archives: the writing process

Story

In an author’s note at the opening of Joyce Carol Oates’s fourth novel, them, she claims, with an apparent sincerity that many readers took as the truth, that her story was based on the confessions of a former night student of hers named Maureen Wendall. Nevertheless, it’s a surprising moment when, in the middle of her otherwise straightforward narrative, Maureen, the main character of the book, speaks directly to the author. “Dear Miss Oates. The books you taught me are mainly lies I can tell you,” Maureen writes. And it feels like a cry not just against the poverty and violence of her life, but against the story her author is trying to make that life fit into.
Tom Nissley, A Reader’s Book of Days: True Tales from the Lives and Works of Writers ..

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The most wondrous novel ever

Hyperbole is an ever-present danger up there on the high-low tightrope. What helps the critic keep his or her balance is the acknowledgment that it  is hyperbole, that there is a rhetoric of aesthetic experience—the experience of reading poems or listening to songs we’re strongly attached to—that is always in excess of the actual content.

Louis Menand Can Poetry Change Your Life? The New Yorker July 31, 2017 (from here) 

 

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A father proud of his son

In  2015, before the referendum in Ireland on whether to make same-sex marriage legal, the author Sebastian Barry wrote a letter to  The Irish Times in support of the referendum. 

Sir, as the more than proud father of one shining person who happens to be a member of the LGBT community, I will be voting yes in the coming referendum. In that sense, it is a personal matter. I have read quite a bit in the papers about our new more tolerant society and that may be so, and, of course, it is a solid point of view from which to vote yes, but I don’t see it as a matter of tolerance so much as apology, apology for all the hatred, violence, suspicion, patronization, ignorance, murder, maiming, hunting, intimidation, terrorizing, shaming, diminishment, discrimination, destruction, then yes intolerance visited upon a section of humanity for God knows how many hundreds of years if not millennia. My child will be just shy of 18 when the votes are cast, and therefore cannot vote himself. By voting yes, I will be engaging in the simple task of honoring the majesty, radiance and promise of his human soul.

(from here) 

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Memoir as the quest to understand

“To write a memoir”, [Richard] Ford claims, “and to consider the importance of another human being is to try to credit what might otherwise go unremarked”. In pondering this, however, Ford is brought up against his own “incomplete understanding”. While Between Them was undertaken in order to “remedy my longing by imagining them near”, it is just as much a record of lapses and blanks. Ford adopts a speculative mode, with provisional portraits evoked by missing details:

“And how was it for him? Driving, driving alone? Sitting in those hotel rooms, in lobbies, reading a strange newspaper in the poor lamplight … smoking?”

Oftentimes, Ford develops the scene in the negative:

“I don’t remember the time of year of his heart attack … I don’t remember it being cold or hot.”

As a consequence, what is most moving is less the story told than the nature of the inquiry: the long view taken by a son trying to imagine what his parents felt about their own lives, what these lives were like before him, and what they have become in memory.

 

Stephanie Bishop reviewing ‘Between Them’ by Richard Ford, a memoir of his parents. The Monthly June 2017 (from here) 

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To tell the truth, the writer must lie

The dialogue a writer establishes with the reader is one of artifice and deceit. To tell the truth, the writer must lie in a number of clever and convincing ways; the instrument for doing this is language — the unreliable, manipulated and manipulative, officially sacrosanct in that it purports to say what the dictionary says it says, but in practice subjective and circumstantial. The narrative voice is always a fiction behind which the reader assumes (or is asked to assume) a truth. The author, the leading character, appears to the reader out of nowhere, almost but not quite a creature of flesh and blood, made present by his own words, like the Beckettian voice that spoke to Moses from the burning bush, saying, “I am what I am.” This is the absolute, godlike, self-defining, circular identity that every writer grants himself in the first person singular. An identity to which the readers are asked to respond: “ If we, often across miles and centuries, can hear the voice saying ‘I’ on the page, then ‘I” must exist and ‘We’ must be forced to believe in it.”

To say “I” is to place before the reader seemingly irrefutable proof of a speaker whose words can tell the truth or lie, but whose presence vouched for by his voice, must not be doubted. To say “I” is to draw a circle in which writer and reader share a common existence within the margins of the page, where reality and unreality rub off each other, where words and what the words name contaminate each other . . .

Alberto Manguel: A Reader on Reading, p132

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Meditation and writing

[When you’re writing]  . .. You’re meditating on your own text that you wrote on Wednesday. You look at it on Thursday and the trick is to get free of whatever you used to think about it and see what it actually is. So in some small secular way, I think that’s a form of meditation — to be open to whatever energy your text is actually presenting as opposed to what you think it’s presenting. It’s a way of being more awake to things.

Getting Out of Our Normal Crap: George Saunders on Writing and Transcendence (from here) 

Steve Paulson interviews George Saunders

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Exploring the hidden

But nature poetry . . . is usually about culture: what it represses, or ignores, or imperils

Dan Chiasson, Night Thoughts: The poetry of Tomas Tranströmer.The New Yorker oct 231 2011

(from here) 

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Interview with poet

Nightsun: How often in writing a poem do you know when it’s going to work, that you’re going to be able to take the poem to some satisfying conclusion?

[Stephen] Dunn: My barometer for myself is that I’m not even in my poem until the first moment I’ve startled myself. Usually if I’m wise that day I throw away everything that precedes that moment. I’m interested in my life, of course, but when I write poetry I’m not interested in my life, per se. I’m interested in using it to talk about concerns of mine, perhaps ones I didn’t even know I had. I usually trust that I might be able to bring the poem to some fruition when I’ve written myself into some locus of concern. I’m certainly always ready to fictionalize what appears to be my life for the sake of exploring my subject matter. And I’m not aversed to creating some obstacles for myself, creating things that the imagination must reach toward in order to accommodate. That’s the illusion of good writing, I think, that something might finally seem effortless, seamless, which may have once had many disparate parts. Essentially I’m talking about how a poem finds its structure and shape. Often a poem is a problem solved.    (from here)

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The incentive for writing

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s assertion (Critic’s Take, April 30) that a writing workshop “can be a hostile place for women and people of color” no doubt has its degree of truth, but I want to say it can also be a place where the ideas of the very same people are treated with careful attention and respect.. . . women and minority writers, even in hostile cultures, have burdens similar to those the rest of us have: to discover what they didn’t know they knew, and to make something memorable out of whatever it is that’s important to them, whether it’s an act of revenge or a walk in the woods.

Stephen Dunn, May 12 2017 Letter to the Editor The New York Times from here

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Private and public

Interviewer to poet

‘You make work in private, but once it goes public, readers make it their own. They define the work—and, by extension, you—in terms of who they are, what they want or believe. ‘

David L. Ulin, interviewing poet Claudia Rankine, The Paris Review The Art of Poetry No. 102

(from here) 

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