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."

Thursday, March 24, 2011

William Saroyan answers the question How do you write?

American author William Saroyan answers the question How do you write? in his essay "Starting with a Tree and Finally Getting to the Death of a Brother." I think this is perhaps the number one question young and beginning writers want the answer to: How do you write?, meaning how can I write, how can I get good at writing. Here are a few passages from Saroyan's essay:
"My answer is that I start with the trees and keep right on straight ahead. . . . How do you die, write, live, sicken, heal, despair, rejoice? You are lucky if you don't start at the end, at abstraction. If you start at the beginning, at the specific, the seen, the real . . . There is no how to it, no how do you write, no how do you live, how do you die. If there were, nothing would live in the deep and very delicate chain of life. It is the doing that makes for continuance. It is not the knowing of how the doing is done. . . . A writer writes, and if he begins by remembering a tree in the backyard, that is solely to permit him gradually to reach the piano in the parlor room upon which rests the photograph of the kid brother killed in the war. . . . How do you write? You write, man, you write, that's how, and you do it the way the old English walnut tree puts forth leaf and fruit every year by the thousands. . . . If you practice an art faithfully, it will make you wise, and most writers can use a little wising up."

I don't think Saroyan's answer is quite what the insecure young writer is looking for . . . but I think it's the one he or she needs to hear.

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