Interviewer: What would you say is the most frustrating moment for a writer and how do you overcome it?
George Saunders: I love this quote from Einstein: “No worthy problem is ever solved in the plane of its original conception.” And I try to think that any frustration I feel when writing is, essentially, the story telling me that my current vision of it is too small. It has higher aspirations for itself and my attempts to control it — my attempts to handle (and limit) it with my conceptual apparatus — is causing the story to throw a small tantrum, until I adjust my vision upwards.
[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
When one owns four homes and has fifteen full-time gardeners perfecting one’s seven gardens and eight man-made streams, one will, of necessity, spend a great deal of time racing between homes and from garden to garden, as so it is perhaps not surprising if, one afternoon, rushing to check on the progress of a dinner one’s cook is preparing for the board of one’s favourite charity, one finds oneself compelled to take a little rest, briefly dropping to one’s knee, then both knees, then pitching forward on to one’s face and, unable to rise, proceeding here for a more prolonged rest, only to find it not restful at all, since, while ostensibly resting, one finds oneself continually fretting about one’s carriages, gardens, furniture, homes et al., all of which (one hopes) patiently await one’s return, not having (Heaven forfend) fallen into the hands of some (reckless, careless, undeserving) Other.
percival “dash” collier
George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo, p129
My general approach to writing fiction is that you try to have as few conceptual notions as possible and you just respond to the energy that the story is making rather than having a big over plan. I think if you have a big over plan, the danger is that you might just take your plan and then you bore everybody. I always joke that it’s like going on a date with index cards. You know, at 7:30 p.m. I should ask about her mother. You keep all the control to yourself but you are kind of insulting to the other person.
In this book, [Lincoln in the Bardo] the only thing I knew at the beginning was that Lincoln had to come and hold Willie’s body and then he had to stop doing that. And that it had to happen in one night. Then the whole thing became more about orchestrating the motion through the graveyard, and the motion through the graveyard would tell me who could talk and who you encountered. Something like that. (from here) George Saunders interviewed by Kate Harloe in The Rumpus Interview , Feb 20, 2017
Interview with George Saunders
What is the intersection between your duty as a citizen and as a novelist?
As an artist, you have to have no responsibilities. Art has to radically have the right to be useless, and that way it discovers its true use. I don’t do a lot of thinking about these different roles. It’s just trusting that whatever you’ve got in your thought cloud is going to find its way in organically.
When I say that fiction shouldn’t be didactic, I don’t mean that it shouldn’t or can’t have political or moral-ethical heft. I’m saying that stories shouldn’t exist as too-easy proofs for one’s pre-existing beliefs. And this isn’t really a moral statement by me, or an aesthetic credo – it’s more owner’s-manual stuff: a story like that simply won’t work. It’s proceeding by methods which are counter to the physics of the form.
When we think of how ‘solutions’ might be presented or represented in a fictive setting, we might want to remember Chekhov’s admonition that art doesn’t have to solve problems, it just has to formulate them correctly. Fiction writing is pattern-making. We aim to make beautiful patterns, but how to do that is not rigorously known, since each pattern’s beauty has to do with the extent to which the pattern is aware of, and referring to, itself. In a fictive space, the mere suggestion of an impulse is often enough. . . . . So if we see fiction as a scale-model, you only need one railroad car to suggest a national transportation system, and one of the pleasures of the fictive scale model is that sense that everything is present and accounted for and in some sort of pleasing proportion. Whatever might move a human being towards perfection or enlightenment can be shown in a story – maybe fleetingly, maybe through its absence – but I don’t think we need to worry about solutions.