Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Some Great Advice

Annoyingly pretentious, or maybe just ornery? I enjoyed the Annie Proulx interview in the latest Paris Review  (unfortunately, to read the entire interview, you need a subscription) and decided to crib from it whole quotes because she says some great things about writing short stories. I've added my thoughts in parenthesis.

On sentences: "A lot of the work I do is taking the bare sentence that says what you sort of want to say--which is where a lot of writers stop--and making it into an arching kind of thing that has both strength and beauty. And that is where the sweat comes in. That can take a long time and many revisions. A single sentence, particularly a long, involved one, can carry a story forward. I put a lot of time into them. Carefully constructed sentences cast a tint of indefinable substance over a story."

On reading: "You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different worlds on a page. Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write."

(I've been preaching about reading for years.)

On how you know when a story is finished: "It is impossible to answer. You just know. I suppose it's the thing Hemingway referred to as the built-in shit detector. I think one develops a built-in shit detector through a wide reading of other people's work. And if you  can't see the ghastly bits in you own writing you shouldn't be a writer. It's a pity that his shit detector failed him in later years."

(I agree on all counts--anyone remember "The Garden of Eden" (which I enjoyed anyway)?)

On revisions: "I once heard Ha Jin say that it was not uncommon for him to do more than thirty drafts. I do not usually do so many..."

(I think thirty could be overdoing it, but when Ha Jin and I share space in the same table of contents, I promise I'll eat my words.)

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