Tag Archives: Literary Quotes

Flecks of Gold Panned Out of a Great, Muddy River

This is Ann Patchett in the afterward to Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face.

In the right hands, a memoir is the flecks of gold panned out of a great, muddy river. A memoir is those flecks melted down into a shapable liquid that can then be molded and hammered into a single bright band to be worn on a finger, something you could point to and say, “This? Oh, this is my life.” Everyone has a muddy river, but very few have the vision, patience, and talent to turn it into something so beautiful. This is why the writer matters, so that we can not only learn from her experience but find a way to shape our own. I’m not talking about shaping every life into a work of art. I’m talking about making our life into something we can understand, a portable object that has the weight and power of an entire terrain.

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Something Naturally and Abruptly Crawls In

Or: Why Daydreaming is Good for Your Writing Life.

This interesting article from the Wall Street Journal should make anyone (like me, for example) who seems to spend hours in unfocused thought feel a little better. A couple of quotes:

…our brain may be most actively engaged when our mind is wandering and we’ve actually lost track of our thoughts, a new brain-scanning study suggests.

And:

By most measures, we spend about a third of our time daydreaming, yet our brain is unusually active during these seemingly idle moments. Left to its own devices, our brain activates several areas associated with complex problem solving, which researchers had previously assumed were dormant during daydreams. Moreover, it appears to be the only time these areas work in unison.

A third? If all is going well, I’ll spend longer daydreaming than that, mate. There’s nothing like a good daydreaming session to make me feel productive. The brain mechanisms that this article talks about might also be the reason that I get great writing ideas when I run. As I’m plodding round the park, sometimes, admittedly, I’m listening to 1980s rave tunes and reliving my clubbing days. But other times, my mind enters a fugue state and, well, I just realize something. That scene I have been stuck on, about my grandmother? It’s really about my father. Aha. Of course.

Haruki Murakami, a novelist I admire, is also a runner, and his book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, contains his own treatise on why running is good for the writer’s life. In this quote from an interview on the Runner’s World website, he seems to describe the same experience that I have had, and that the researchers in the Wall Street Journal article are talking about. Murakami says:

I try not to think about anything special while running. As a matter of fact, I usually run with my mind empty. However, when I run empty-minded, something naturally and abruptly crawls in sometimes. That might become an idea that can help me with my writing.

Our next challenge is to pay attention to that thing that has crawled in. Write it down. Follow where it leads.

Luc Sante and Flaubert: Language, Meaning, and Process

There’s a great interview with Luc Sante up at Guernica magazine. The interviewer, Suzanne Menghraj, weaves in questions about music and rhythm and solicits this great quote from Sante:

Rhythm in writing is […] a completely intuitive matter. I don’t really understand the process. It’s related to the substance of Flaubert’s famous letter to George Sand: “When I come upon a bad assonance or a repetition in my sentences, I’m sure I’m floundering in the false. By searching I find the proper expression, which was always the only one, and which is also harmonious. The word is never lacking when one possesses the idea. Is there not, in this precise fitting of parts, something eternal, like a principal? If not, why should there be a relation between the right word and the musical word? Or why should the greatest compression of thought always result in a line of poetry?” This is crucial stuff for me. I write intuitively, not knowing where I’m going, not knowing what the next sentence will be until this one has guided me there, and knowing how the sentence goes begins with my hearing its rhythm in my head, and then filling in the specific words. If the sentence is cloddish and clunky, it’s simply wrong—and not just wrong-sounding but wrong in its meaning.

I can’t think of a better reason for paying close attention to the construction and flow of every single sentence. Ugly sentences, the ones that don’t scan, the ones that the reader stumbles over? No less than a failure of meaning.

The instinct might be to fix the sentence: rewrite it till it flows. I’d suggest stopping and thinking and getting clarity on what it is you are trying to say before you do that. As Flaubert says: The word is never lacking when one possesses the idea. Find the idea and the words should, in theory, take care of themselves.

Ah yes, you say, but what if you don’t know what you want to say? What if the idea is elusive, impossible to pin down? Isn’t that one of the reasons why we write in the first place? To discover what it is that we feel and think?

To which I say: that’s what first drafts are for! Write it out in order to know it, to understand it (whatever “it” is here: story, idea, feeling). Then write it again, with this new knowledge having been dredged up and placed, to some degree, at the front of the mind. These two documents might have very little in common. The first enables the second, and the second isn’t so much a rewrite as a re-imagining.

That’s my thoughts on process for today folks, inspired by Flaubert, care of Luc Sante, care of Guernica magazine.

More Juicy Links. And Mashed Potatoes.

David Carr Will Save Memoir! Or so says Leon Neyfakh at the New York Observer. Apparently Carr, author of a new book about his drug experiences, was so loathe to trust his drugged out memories that he reported on his own life, interviewed his friends and family, and even hired a private investigator. This makes him, in Neyfakh’s eyes, memoir’s “…white knight, galloping in to show how a personal story can be engrossing, shocking and true.”

This hilarious collection of Carr’s mashed potato analogies suggests otherwise, though.

Stuart Jeffries on the non-reading epidemic. Pithy.

There is a thing called reader’s block. It is not the same as writer’s block. In fact, reader’s block is a phenomenon partly explained as a reader’s all-too-understandable response to so many writers not having writer’s block.

My man Salman might just win the Booker prize again.

And, care of Booksquare, Jennifer Epstein, author of the Painter From Shanghai, on moving from writing books to blogging and blogs:

These short, sharp little sites and pieces can be vastly engaging and informative, and I’ve found several that I truly love. That said, they feel like the very antithesis of the way I write; tight deadlines, immediate readerships.

For New York type writing folk, Guernica magazine is looking for a managing editor and benefit director.

Juicy Links. And Kindleporn.

The links section to the right is currently in progress. As soon as I get the time I’m going to be adding more: more people I know and love, more literary sites, more good stuff.

In the meantime, here’s a few interesting snippets for you to peruse.

This article about Kindleporn just throws up so many weird questions. Does the design of the Kindle facilitate easy one-handed operation? Are there now authors out there who are packaging their erotica into Kindle-page sized chunks? How should a Kindle be cleaned? The mind boggles.

Then there’s this: Robert Downey Jr. Postpones Candid Memoir. S’up Bob? Got creatively blocked, did you? Was your memoir so unbelievably candid that you were afraid of what your family and friends might think? Or was it just too much of a literary challenge? You should have called me, dude! I could have helped you with those issues. I do that kind of thing all the time!

Finally, literary tattoos. Try not to read the comments at the end from all those uptight and morally indignant Telegraph readers, just look at the pictures.

I do have a tattoo, and it does have words in it, but it’s not a literary quote. And that’s all I’m going to say about it. If I were to get a literary tattoo, though, it might be this quote from Thomas Mann, which is currently one of my favorites:

A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.

Actually, I think all writers need to have this tattooed on their bodies somewhere, because it’s so easy to forget. We think that, because it’s difficult, we must somehow be doing it wrong, and there are other writers out there who find writing easy, and they are the real writers and we are not. Mann’s quote reminds us that, in fact, the opposite is closer to the truth.

What about you? What literary tattoo would you get?