What is "Doom Eager"?

Lorrie Moore, from "Better and Sicker"
"Martha Graham speaks of the Icelandic term "doom eager" to denote that ordeal of isolation, restlessness, caughtness and artistic experiences when he or she is sick with an idea. When a writer is doom eager, the writing won't be sludge on the page; it will give readers -- and the writer, of course, is the very first reader -- an experience they've never had before, or perhaps a little and at last the words for an experience they have."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

books that make you cry

"It's much easier to write a solemn book than a funny book. It's harder to make people laugh than it is to make them cry. People are always on the verge of tears." Fran Lebowitz

I googled "books that make you cry" and the only interesting thing I found on the first page was a list of Books That Make You Cry from goodreads.com. Some of the books listed made me scratch my head; others, namely the classics, I agreed with.

Today I heard a piece on NPR about Jonathan Franzen's 2001 novel The Corrections. Winner of the 2001 National Book Award, Franzen's novel sounds like a book that promises to make me laugh and cry. Here's a link to readers' reviews of the novel posted on Diane Rehm's NPR website.

Friday, September 17, 2010

the audience of ten

"A man really writes for an audience of about ten persons. Of course, if others like it, that is clear gain. But if those ten are satisfied, he is content." - Alfred North Whitehead

I'm not convinced of Alfred North Whitehead's conviction that we really write "for an audience of about ten people," but I'm willing to entertain the thought. Here's my list of the ten folks for whom I write:

1. myself (I get to include myself, I assume.)
2. my father (It pains me a bit to admit this.)
3. the men I've loved (a collective "person" & I won't name names)
4. Joan Norton (my high school AP English teacher)
5. my son
6. Michelle G. (a close friend and former student)
7. James Joyce & company (a collective group of authors who have influenced me)
8. my mother (Why she's so low on this list, I'm unsure.)
9. Dr. Kathleen Hassell (my master's degree creative writing professor at UNF)
10.my brother Curtis Wilson Smith (deceased December 22, 2002, a talented musician and writer)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

how lack of mastery can be a good thing

"The persistent problem with my writing is that I never know how something is going to come out; even when I write a short review, I always have to start over. I have no mastery. But it's actually beneficial -- it prevents things from becoming routine." - Heinrich Boll

Don't let fear of mastery (or the lack of it) keep you from writing. Self-doubt, fear, self-criticism, these feelings and thoughts will creep up and threaten to stop us from our writing goals. There is little use in trying to eliminate or suppress them. Better to acknowledge them as they occur; then let them pass through the mind and continue writing. Too much agonizing and brooding over them only leads to melancholy and stagnation.

If possible, look upon them as a benefit, as Boll does, as a reminder of the power and possibility inherent in the act of revision and a measure of how much one values close attention to the craft. Let your inner critic push your writing to new heights.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Thought for the Day

Go with your instinct -- even if it may turn out to be wrong later. Learning to trust yourself can be difficult, but it is vital if you are to develop your own voice. Second-guessing yourself isn't the same as thoughtful editing and revision.

Monday, September 6, 2010

a Mark Twain quote on Labor Day

Happy Labor Day, writers! Relax and enjoy the day. Anyone who's tried it knows making a living writing is a ridiculous venture, but one well worth the pursuit.

A little Mark Twain on Labor Day:
"Write without pay until somebody offers pay. If nobody offers pay within three years, the candidate may look upon this circumstance with the most implicit confidence as the sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for."

Keep writing and keep the literary faith!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

the question of style

"We always worry that we are copying someone else, that we don't have our own style. Don't worry. Writing is a communal act. Contrary to popular belief, a writer is not Prometheus alone on a hill full of fire. We are very arrogant to think we alone have a totally original mind. We are carried on the backs of all the writers who came before us. We live in the present with all the history, ideas, and soda pop of this time. It all gets mixed up in our writing." - Natalie Goldberg

I've been thinking about the nature of style a lot lately. What it is exactly. How we develop it. What elements constitute our "style" of writing.

J. A. Spender said, "If you are getting the worst of it in an argument with a literary man, always attack his style. That'll touch him if nothing else will."

I think style is, perhaps, the quirk or habit or preoccupation in our writing that sets us apart. I fear it may be that thing that others desire to drive out of us, stop us from doing. The question for me is always: Is this (questionable thing) just a part of my style or is it a problem in my writing? One might think that's an easy question to answer. I don't find it so.

Consider Hemingway's comments on his style:
"In stating as fully as I could how things really were, it was often very difficult and I wrote awkwardly and the awkwardness is what they called my style. All mistakes and awkwardness are easy to see, and they called it style."

I don't want to embrace a mistake and foolishly cling to a habit I think defines "my style." Conversely, I don't want to strip away that which sets me apart, leaving my writing generic and bland.

Montesquieu said, "A man who writes well writes not as others write, but as he himself writes; it is often in speaking badly that he speaks well."

Am I a hodgepodge of writers I have read? Is what makes me unique part of my "awkwardness" in writing? Can my "speaking badly" help me "speak well"?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Fan Wu on e-books for The Ploughshares Blog

Guest blogger Fan Wu comments on the rise of e-books on The Plougshares Blog:
E-books? E-books! by Fan Wu

Fan and I are of the same mind. We can't stop the popularity of e-books and changes in the publishing industry, but we don't have to join them either. They'll pull my books from my cold, dead hands.

"The harmonies of bound books are like the flowers of the field." - Hilaire Belloc

Thursday, September 2, 2010

on metaphors

"The really good metaphors are always the same. I mean you compare time to a road, death to sleeping, life to dreaming, and those are the great metaphors in literature because they correspond to something essential. If you invent metaphors, they are apt to be surprising during the fraction of a second, but they strike no deep emotion whatever." - Jorge Luis Borges

Classic Metaphors That Come to Mind:

Chasing the white whale/the big fish
The Tree of Life
The Great Flood
The growing of gardens & the time of harvesting
The acts of cooking & eating
Metamorphosis & mutation (turning into a bug/butterfly/wolf/X-men)
The carnival/freak show
Rivers flowing
The game of chance/gambling
The office space & work
Eagles/hawks soaring & the power of flight
On-coming trains
Couching lions/tigers/dragons
Fear of technology

What classic metaphors come to mind for you?