Reading about Writing …

April 26, 2010 § 5 Comments

Intrigued as usual by the idea of a workshop, I danced around this particular book (pictured above) at B&N and jabbered about it enough, asking “Would it be great? why wouldn’t it be great? sure, it would be good, wouldn’t it?” and not long afterwards, it showed up as a  gift from HM after I’d  walked away from it several times. 

The book is composed of 17 chapters by writers writing about writing fiction. Their names, too, show on the cover. A good idea. While I didn’t recognize all of them, though I should have (who’s Oakley Hall?), authors Chabon, Lamott and Johnson caught my eye. I’ve read them. I feel comfortable knowing who they are having read them. I know they know what they’re doing and could quite possibly communicate some of that to me.

And Richard Ford wrote the introduction, slowed me down, asked me to pay attention to his words and all those that would follow.

The book is “workshoppy,”  like hanging out with that writer for a serious 15 – 20 minutes, listening, scribbling notes, dogearing! Some share their life as it “stories” with the point they’re making. Some are funny, several are downright serious. All are saying something essential but you need to listen harder to some than others.

For some reason, Diane Johnson (author of L’Affaire and Le Divorce and several others) resonated. (Results: many dogears  within her chapter, which surprised me as I wasn’t an absolute fan of the two aforementioned novels but read them in part “to see” what was going on, what she was all about, why reviewers touted her as the modern Jane Austen. Mmmmm…maybe. If you’ve read her, let me know what you think.) Anyway, her chapter made me laugh or nod my head “yes.”  Here are a few bits that brought a smile. 

“My impression is that writers in general, but especially fiction writers, are pleasant people. They like each other…”

“I’ve mentioned that a novelist is an odd thing to be. Many years ago I came up with an example based on experience from the fact that you’d think twice before telling someone sitting next to you no a plane that you were a novelist. To begin with, people don’t believe you. …I think it’s because each person feels in himself that unwritten novel trying to get out and knows he hasn’t actually sat down to let it out, hasn’t sat down at the computer and done his novel, and he suspects that you haven’t either. 

“If your seatmate learns you have, he finds it irritating and reproachful. He’s also equally suspicious if you are willing and if you aren’t willing to listen to his novel idea. If you listen you’ll steal it, and if you don’t, he’s insulted that you find it dull.”

“The person on the plane, and your relatives and friends too, are afraid you will put them in your novel, but also that you won’t.”

“When things are going well, you do have the feeling of pleasure and order that always rewards the artist….that the trick you’re pulling on the world is working, that the world is paying you to sit cozily in your room making up stories.”

It’s a good walk, this book, with excellent views along the way, and some sharp advice.

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§ 5 Responses to Reading about Writing …

  • jeanie says:

    This feels like a workshop book I could like, more like a nice conversation with folks, rather than “first, find a quiet place and write this many ideas.” Ick! This sounds rather fun!

  • oh says:

    Yes! try it. Since it’s separate chapters, you can find something you like. One or two of them were totally deep/abstract like “what are they talking about” but all the rest were top drawer, sharing info and experience and offering some cool info or ideas.
    Nope, this one is not the go-for-a-walk-and-list-all-the-things-that-are-blue kind of workshop things.

  • Nora says:

    The part about adding characters from your plane rides and etc is kind of funny. I’ve often wondered what my friends who know I blog wish they were (or were not) mentioned in the blog.

  • Ruth says:

    How interesting what Johnson wrote.

    I was just having a conversation with a student yesterday, about how fun it is to listen to author interviews on NPR. I had listened to A.S. Byatt last year, and loved what she had to say about taking notes for months or years before starting a novel. I also love reading essays by famous authors on other authors, as in a volume of short stories I have, and also in the addendum to my Dead Souls volume from the library.

    • oh says:

      Aha, Ruth! You give me opportunity to add yet another (several) book(s) to my “wish list.” Dead Souls and more Byatt! I took forever getting to reading POSSESSION and then wondered why I had waited so long, I loved it so.

      Thanks for stopping by – always curious to know what readers/writers/artists (yes, you are all of them!) are thinking.

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