Tag: quotes

On a certain type of awkwardness

“a movement which had all the decent tremor of awkwardness and none of its oddity”

The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James

I like this because it so exactly captures the way slight awkwardness can be graceful and requisite—“decent”—in certain social situations.


Defining literary fiction as a genre

“Literary fiction can, like most fiction, be unimportant. It can also be unserious: some of the best of it is. I’d call Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller literary fiction, but it doesn’t strike me as either important or serious. It’s a glorious game.

“[…] I’d suggest that the main identifying feature [of literary fiction]—and in this respect literary writing can and does compass and mingle with any number of other genres—is to do with complexity and depth of attention.”

a very thoughtful essay by Sam Leith, found via Language Hat

The best writing advice George Saunders ever received

“Once, when I was a student, I cornered my mentor and hero Tobias Wolff at a party and assured him that I had sworn off comedic sci-fi and was now writing ‘real literature.’ I think he sensed, correctly, that 1) this was not an attitude that was going to produce my best work but 2) there was going to be no arguing me off of that position (only time could do that). So he just said, ‘Well, good. Just don’t lose the magic.'”

—George Saunders here (well worth reading in full)

“Don’t lose the magic”! Saunders says it took him four years after his first attempt at “real literature” to get the magic back, but also that “to suddenly recall his advice at just that moment was a sort of force-accelerator.” So maybe writing advice isn’t completely useless.

More time, less writing

“More time, yet less writing. Part of this has to do with the paradox of productivity that many of us are familiar with. I’m reminded of a corporate cliché I used to hear all the time: ‘If you really need something done, give it to someone busy to do.’ In speaking to other writers, I’ve learnt that my experience is far from uncommon. It seems that for many, the constraints of a day job, family, or other responsibilities provide a structure around which a writing routine can be eked out. Scarcity of time also leads one to guard fiercely whatever writing time one does have. Now that I finally have the luxury of time, I find myself only too prone to letting it slip away.”

—Rachel Heng (x)

On intentionally bad art

“It’s possible to make art that is so bad that it doesn’t even effectively serve the purpose of being bad art.”

—Andrew Hussie

Reluctant citizens

“During afternoon break the clerk, who is standing by the jury box, is asked by a juror how he can get out of jury service next time. In California, you can be called once every twelve months for jury duty.

“‘I could do maybe one week a year, but there’s no way my employer could handle three weeks, two years in a row,’ the juror says.

“‘Well,’ the clerk tells him, ‘people are picked from the voter rolls.’

“‘Then I’m going to un-register to vote,’ says the woman beside me. ‘I don’t like voting anymore, either.’”

—an essay aptly titled “Reluctant Citizens,” by Kyle Boelte, in ZYZZYVA, anthologized in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2016

This is so sad. Maybe California should give them more time between calls. Where I live it’s only every three years.

On our resources

“A writer—and, I believe, generally all persons—must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.”

—Jorge Luis Borges in Twenty-Four Conversations with Borges: Interviews by Roberto Alifano 1981-1983, can’t identify the translator by googling (quote found here)

In defense of semicolons

“Any number of celebrated writers who ought to know better—I’ll name no names—have said any number of foolish, disparaging things about semicolons. [Shirley] Jackson uses them, beautifully, to hold her sentences tightly together. Commas, semicolons, periods: This is how the prose breathes.”

—Benjamin Dreyer (x)

A non-writing writer

“A non-writing writer is a monster inviting madness.”

—Franz Kafka in a letter to Max Brod

Let your characters do the suffering

“In stories, in the worlds that we can go into, there’s suffering, confusion, darkness, tension, and anger. There are murders; there’s all kinds of stuff. But the filmmaker doesn’t have to be suffering to show suffering. You can show it, show the human condition, show conflicts and contrasts, but you don’t have to go through that yourself. You are the orchestrator of it, but you’re not in it. Let your characters do the suffering. It’s common sense: The more the artist is suffering, the less creative he is going to be. It’s less likely that he is going to enjoy his work and less likely that he will be able to do really good work.”

—David Lynch (found here)

Interesting. Someone (not a writer) was telling me recently that the best time to write is while crying. I thought at once of Wordsworth’s “emotion recollected in tranquility.” Which is the best: while suffering, after suffering, or as Lynch says, without suffering at all?