Anne Enright: The Thing You Have Written Is A Piece Of Shit

The title of this post is a line from this forthright essay about the writing process by Anne Enright, taken from the Guardian books section. Read the whole essay to see the line in context, but here’s the opening paragraph as a teaser:

It doesn’t matter what you think about your work. This is one of the weirdest lessons a writer has to learn, that the emotions that push you to write better, with greater accuracy, truth, verve, wit; the despair that makes you cast your eyes to the ceiling and then plunge back to the keyboard; the running pleasure of one good word being followed by a better; the glee as you set a time bomb ticking in the text; the glorious megalomania with which you set out to describe and yes! conquer! the! world! … are all completely redundant once the piece is finished.

Enright won the Man Booker Prize in October 2007 for her fourth book The Gathering, which introduced her to a whole new audience. The Times book blog Paper Cuts posted something about her back then, and the tenor of the comments – most of them asinine in the extreme – is indicative of her reception. She got in a lot of trouble for her essay about the McCanns in the London Review of Books. UK media commentator Janet Street Porter – a woman who might be described as shrill if she wasn’t simultaneously so horsey – encouraged the public to boycott Enright’s books.

I find Enright’s essays (and check out her others in the LRB while you are over there – one on religion and her children, and one on breastfeeding) to be refreshingly honest and powerfully written. I think this is why she provokes so much ire: she writes about the things we think and feel but are afraid to express. Which, in my book, makes her a good writer. Which takes us back to: The thing you have written is a piece of shit. What writer hasn’t thought this, at one point or another, about their own work? Enright’s point is that you can’t let that voice dictate to you or you’d never write another word. I couldn’t agree more.

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2 responses to “Anne Enright: The Thing You Have Written Is A Piece Of Shit

  1. anna rawlinson

    I agree too – but how do you know/judge the quality of what you have written? How do you know if it really is a piece of shit?

  2. nancyrawlinson

    That is an excellent question. It goes to the heart of what most writers struggle with: lack of confidence about their own work, and the seemingly impossible task of objectively judging its worth. The short answer, here, is that there are three things that I think a writer can do to deal with these issues: work on developing their own intuition about their work, work on developing their critical responses through an understanding of craft, and build in an external feedback loop. I think these processes are worthy of longer explication, so see the next blog post for a more worked-out reply.

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