Letters and Editors

February 9, 2009

posted by Caroline Picard

I’ve been looking for an article that someone mentioned the other night–an article about autobiographical fiction – at any rate, I haven’t yet found the article, but I do keep running into other interesting artcles in lieu of my search.

I just found this letter on salon.com. It’s a letter about how to face interior demons, step up and create; the thrust of the letter is that we stop ourselves from doing great things by internalizing any number of judgements that we are afraid to incur. It seems like a piece that’s worth reading from any angle, whether as a writer, an artist, an accounatant, parent or friend. It recalls also, that Nelson Mandela quote. Which is still one of my favorites.


2 Responses to “Letters and Editors”

  1. Cliff Burns Says:

    Autobiographical fiction is fine as long as one is able to distance oneself from the subject matter and eliminate anything extraneous. Everything in service to the story, no self-indulgence should be allowed to seep through. Fiction-writing isn’t merely transcribing journal entries and using a few fictitious names to conceal the guilty (or innocent). It’s telling a story and using one’s real-life experiences to add color, detail and intensity to a scene…

  2. urbesque Says:

    The response to the letter in Slate reminded me of something Principal Skinner said on a rerun of The Simpsons the other night. After making a sexist remark, he does his best to patch up the situation. It doesn’t work. Giving up on trying to figure out what everyone wants to hear, he says something like: “I don’t have opinions anymore. All I know is that no one is better than anyone else, and everyone is the best at everything.”

    I get what Tennis is saying, which is, when you come down to it, “don’t wallow in negative feelings.” That’s good advice because, you know, wallowing in negative feelings is bad. But there’s also a strain of McSweeny’s-esque anti-criticism here. Believe it or not, it’s okay to judge. Writing is more than just “dancing together on the bottom of the sea.” It is a constant passing of critical judgements. The author of the letter brought up the “old adage that in order to become a good writer you should write write write and read read read.” Well, all of the energy going into that writing writing writing and reading reading reading should be devoted to thinking critically about it. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time.

    It’s funny. In college, I’d leave a literature class in which a number of students would absolutely tear down a Hemingway or an Eliot only to see those same students have nothing but nice and harmless things to say about someone’s crappy story in a workshop.

    There’s no need to be mean. Being mean is no good. But I think you’d be respecting an author more by reading his or her work, thinking critically about it and (silently, maybe) passing judgement on it than by simply reading it and digging it because all literature is worth celebrating.

    When you read something bad, think about what makes it bad. Learn from it and try not to make the same mistakes in your own writing. Hell, sometimes it’s easier to learn something from the bad writing than from the good.


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