He said he feels kind of guilty for being such a hermit. “I tend to really cut myself off. It’s not a good thing. You wind up getting sort of crotchety and pissy. Your friends call up and just want to get together for dinner and it’s like, ‘oh Jesus,’ and you feel so put upon. You get really obnoxious and particular about your time.”
Wells Tower talking about himself in talking about writing fiction, in a New York Observer story earlier this year entitled “Wells Tower, Fiction Writer, Is Looking for Joy” (which sounds a little ironic, when you’re looking at this snippet only.) But yeah, I know this/these writers.
Associatively, I hear Neil Young’s song start up in my head: …”I have a friend I’ve never seen, he hides his head inside a dream, someone should call him and see if he can come out, try to lose the down that he’s found…”
Oh, Mr. Benfey, of this that you’ve written,
The short story is a genre in which, for mysterious reasons, Americans–along with Russian and Irish writers–have excelled. Perhaps it is because these are countries that, in their ragged and unsettled histories, have maintained oral storytelling traditions in tightly knit rural communities. It has often been pointed out that the American South, with its agrarian past and its experience of military defeat and occupation, has produced an unusually strong crop of short stories. At the same time, the writing of stories seems to be a talent, like a knack for chess or mathematics or lyric poetry, that lives and dies with youth. In the years before her death, O’Connor felt the well running dry; she wrote no new stories in 1962. “I’ve been writing eighteen years and I’ve reached the point where I can’t do again what I know I can do well,” she lamented, “and the larger things that I need to do now, I doubt my capacity for doing.”
I’d ask, in response, you’ve heard of Tobias Wollf, surely?
But Tobias Wolff, who is one of our great contemporary masters of the short story, says that the difficulty of the short story is its own reward…
Or how many tweets would the volumes take? (In Defense of Distraction, Sam Anderson.)
The prophets of total attentional meltdown sometimes invoke, as an example of the great culture we’re going to lose as we succumb to e-thinking, the canonical French juggernaut Marcel Proust. And indeed, at seven volumes, several thousand pages, and 1.5 million words, À la Recherche du Temps Perdu is in many ways the anti-Twitter. (It would take, by the way, exactly 68,636 tweets to reproduce.) It’s important to remember, however, that the most famous moment in all of Proust, the moment that launches the entire monumental project, is a moment of pure distraction: when the narrator, Marcel, eats a spoonful of tea-soaked madeleine and finds himself instantly transported back to the world of his childhood. Proust makes it clear that conscious focus could never have yielded such profound magic: Marcel has to abandon the constraints of what he calls “voluntary memory”—the kind of narrow, purpose-driven attention that Adderall, say, might have allowed him to harness—in order to get to the deeper truths available only by distraction. That famous cookie is a kind of hyperlink: a little blip that launches an associative cascade of a million other subjects. This sort of free-associative wandering is essential to the creative process; one moment of judicious unmindfulness can inspire thousands of hours of mindfulness.
Interesting article. Yes, free-associative wandering is essential to the creative process. But a quibble here: that’s not really the same thing as having tabs and tabs of your browser open simultaneously with email, texting, tweeting, etc and so on, is it?
Verlyn Klinkenborg, NYT, Some Thoughts on the Lost Art of Reading Aloud:
Reading aloud recaptures the physicality of words. To read with your lungs and diaphragm, with your tongue and lips, is very different than reading with your eyes alone. The language becomes a part of the body, which is why there is always a curious tenderness, almost an erotic quality, in those 18th- and 19th- century literary scenes where a book is being read aloud in mixed company. The words are not mere words. They are the breath and mind, perhaps even the soul, of the person who is reading.
Much more to think about in the article. I’m particularly interested because reading aloud is a regular, important part of my life. Each evening, in fact, I read aloud to my husband a book we’re enjoying together. This evolved out of wanting to discuss certain books with the other and not being willing to wait for the time for each of us to finish the work we wanted to talk about. Also, then, there wasn’t the spontaneity of talking in the moment about what struck us just as we’d read it, of course. Now, it’s hard to imagine not reading aloud. It’s just part of life — a good part.
Informally, as we are working on our writing, we’ll read parts aloud to one another to get the other’s take and to hear the thing aloud ourselves. We’ve always done this, can’t imagine not.
Additionally, we read, almost each week, from our ongoing work at a writers’ group we belong to in the city. It’s fascinating to hear others’ feedback on my work, and equally fascinating to hear myself read aloud to a group. Also, I’m learning to hear others’ work that they read aloud for feedback in a nuanced way that’s continuing to develop. The article talks about the related practice of the author’s experience with his students reading aloud.
Struggling with, in what I”m writing — this novel in stories, not knowing what will happen. (Again.)
That long slog. Just writing, writing, writing to find out what will happen with this character. Will it add up to something? Will he go somewhere? Can it be or become something meaningful — something worth reading about?
These are the hard parts. The hardest parts. Trying to trust that this dallying around on paper is going to become.
Except, of course, it’s not really self-flagellation. Not really. I mean, look up self-flagellation, the act of, and you’ll see that the real thing still goes on.
Nevertheless. This is my little blurb sent out into the (not really ether anymore and I’m off the word cyber for the time being) world to say I wish I’d written more here over this past year, and by doing so, making myself feel then that I must, absolutely must, write more here. I know. It sounds so mild, big deal. And it is mild. A lament, and a wish.
From William Zinsser on writing & keeping up to date his book, On Writing Well:
(The hard part of writing isn’t the writing; it’s the thinking.)
That, finally, is the life-changing message of On Writing Well: simplify your language and thereby find your humanity.
I would treat the English language spaciously, as a gift waiting for anyone to unwrap, not as a narrow universe of grammar and syntax.
As an editor I knew that almost anything can be cut to 300 words; the material is somewhere in the marble, waiting to be quarried out.
writers must set higher standards for their work than anyone else does—and must defend what they write against every editor or publisher or agent who tries to distort or dilute it.
Women, in particular, felt that they needed permission to believe in their remembered truth.