Friday, June 17, 2011

Friday Forays in Fiction: Quote

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Writers, especially we who write fiction, not only do it in private but when the book is published—even if it turns out well, and even if it's well received—it's not apparent from the finished product that we actually know how to do anything. Well, we can tell stories, but everybody tells stories. Everybody's grandmother tells stories.

...

The widespread conviction that anyone can write a novel is, naturally, cranky-making to those of us who actually write them, but I admit that I can understand its source. A good writer strives to conceal the effort that went into producing a short story or novel. A fireman or a doctor, visibly saving lives, does and should inspire in us an appreciation of the courage and training required. A work of fiction, if it's any good, has precisely the opposite effect. It should seem effortless. It should so infiltrate the reader's consciousness that by its end it should seem not like the long, heroic effort of another person but like an unusually vivid dream the reader has had.

...writers work like demons, suffer greatly, and are also happy, in unmistakable ways, some of the time. If we had no knowledge of happiness, our novels wouldn't sufficiently resemble real life. Some of us are even made a little bit happy, on occasion, by the writing process itself. I mean, really, if there wasn't some sort of enjoyment to be derived, would any of us keep doing it?

For me there are hours, there are even whole days, when I feel good about what I'm doing as I sit at my computer. Here's where the question of happiness gets a little tricky, because if you start feeling like an expert, if you start putting down sentence after sentence the way a baker squeezes rosettes onto a cake, you're in trouble. A writer should always feel like he's in over his head. That's part of what makes good writing compelling—the sense that as readers we're in the company of a writer of vast ambitions, who is always trying to do more than he or she is technically capable of.


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