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."

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Art is ...

"Art is a shutting in in order to shut out. Art is a ritualistic binding of the perpetual motion machine that is nature. ... Art is spellbinding. Art fixes the audience in its seat, stops the feet before a painting, fixes a book in the hand. Contemplation is a magic act." - Camille Paglia

Finish this sentence. Art is . . .

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Norman Mailer on the purpose of art

"I feel that the final purpose of art is to intensify -- even, if necessary, to exacerbate -- the moral consciousness of people. In particular, I think the novel at its best is the most moral of the art forms. You are exploring the interstices of human behavior -- which is the first approach to religious experience for many of us, especially since the organized religions don't begin to offer sufficient account of the terrible complexities of moral experience and its dark sibling, moral ambiguity. The wisest rule of thumb for the would-be moralist is: There are no answers. There are only questions." - Norman Mailer, from "The Spooky Art: Thoughts on Writing"

Is it necessary in the novel to answer questions of morality? I think of the novels I've loved most, and they all seem to have in common a lack of moral certainty. Two that come to mind are Toni Morrison's Beloved and Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. Both of these novels seem to me to run deep with moral ambiguity.

Novels that resonate in me are about choice and uncertainty. Doing the wrong thing for the right reason (or vice versa) - or not knowing what action is the most right or the worse wrong - is what keeps me up at night, gnaws at my soul, provides the most compelling conflict. For me, the final purpose of art is about presenting choices and helping us experience the aftermath of those choices, so that we may choose wisely for ourselves.

Friday, October 22, 2010

thought for the day: driven to distraction

A technique that distracts the reader is never a good idea. The means by which one tells the story should not call attention to itself, yanking the reader out of the narrative world one has taken great pains to create. Distracting technique is a violation of the promise one makes with the reader: I will transport you to another existence, where a meaningful journey awaits. How rude to remind the reader he does not actually exist in that world.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

keeping your tone when writing a novel

This is only my second post this month. Going through my marriage separation and my mother's unexpected illness has left me drained and numb. Today I found comfort in these words by Norman Mailer on stamina and writing a novel:
"A large part of writing a novel is to keep your tone. I love starting a book; I usually like finishing one. It's the long middle stretches that call on your character -- all that in-between! -- those months or years when you have to report to work almost every day. You don't write novels by putting in two brilliant hours a week. You don't write novels if you lose too many mornings and afternoons to a hangover."

I'm in that long middle in-between and have, quite honestly, let my life circumstances shut me down. But, now it's time to wake-up, shake it off, and get back to work. As Mailer puts it, "There's nothing glorious about being a professional.. . . Professionalism probably comes down to being able to work on a bad day."

I've had too many bad days lately.

Monday, October 4, 2010

what young writers can learn from writing a novel

"If you start a novel before you're ready, it's exactly as if you are a young athlete out in a contest with professionals who are far beyond you. Not ready, you get clobbered. You receive a painful lesson in identity. One does well to build up a little literary experience before trying a long piece of work. On the other hand, if you can accept in advance the likelihood of ending in failure, a young writer can learn a good deal by daring to embark on the long voyage that is a novel." - Norman Mailer from The Spooky Art: Thoughts on Writing

Read a review of Mailer's The Spooky Art at salon.com.

My short list of what a young writer can learn from writing a novel:
Note: To all "young" and "more-seasoned" writers, please feel free to add to this list.

1. Humility. What can be more humbling than realizing your years of pent-up angst and untapped creative juice got spent and dried up by chapter three?

2. Character development. Writing a novel, you'll soon find out if you've got what it takes to develop a fully-realized character. One that isn't just a caricature of your mother (or father, spouse, lover, etc.)or thinly disguised version of yourself.

3. Plot structure. If you don't grab onto the three-act plot structure, you'll fold quickly. Or, you'll write a brilliant experimental novel no one will want to publish.

4. Not to look down on your audience. No one likes a know-it-all writer. Trust me on this one.

5. Be emotionally honest. False emotions jump off the page and scream insecurity(on the part of the characters and the writer). Writing a novel forces you at some point to get real with your characters and yourself about where the story is going and what meaning can be found there.

6. Time management skills. Writing a novel takes focus and sacrifice. You'll learn to structure your time to include daily writing or you won't finish the novel.

7. It's okay to cut what doesn't work. This point is difficult for the young writer who believes his or her words are inspired and can never be revised or deleted. If you don't learn to edit ruthlessly, you'll likely get bogged down in your own sludge of word fancy and unnecessary plot points.

8. It's harder than it looks. You'll certainly come to appreciate how hard good writing can be, which brings me back to number one: humility.