If writing has taught me anything, it’s taught me that much of real life is a waste and not worth telling. What makes life and fiction important and interesting and meaningful is for it to be examined and put through a kind of rigor. Not everything you think or feel deserves space in the world.
Look here. Being intelligible is not what it seems. You mean by understanding that you can talk about it in the way that you have a habit of talking, putting it in other words. But I mean by understanding enjoyment. If you enjoy it, you understand it. And lots of people have enjoyed it so lots of people have understood it… But after all you must enjoy my writing, and if you enjoy it you understand it. If you do not enjoy it, why do you make a fuss about it? There is the real answer.
Early on, I was in such a rush. A rush to write, a rush to read. I gobbled up and pounded out thousands of pages without analysis, control. Which resulted in me having only a hazy memory of what I had read and a large bank of sloppily written stories. I have since learned the difference between hurriedness and urgency. Urgency is important—it defines me in many ways (I am always working, even when not at the keyboard)—but only if that urgency is matched with a need for perfection.
Every writer born opens within himself the trial of literature, but if he condemns it, he always grants it a reprieve which literature turns to use in order to reconquer him.
I don’t think I see a distinction between structure and writing. Isn’t it structure all the way down—from a novel’s architectonics down to a perfect phrase, how assonance enhances this word or that? Recently Robert Coover visited the university where I teach and met with students for an informal conversation. Someone asked him about how he structured his novels. His intriguing and revealing advice was that, instead of thinking about character first, say, or scene, or image, or plot, he asked himself what his guiding metaphor would be. Then he infused that metaphor all the way through his in-process project.
You make an open-ended proposition and the audience completes it somehow. That’s what you hope an artwork to be—a constantly living thing.
Books that lack ambiguity or mystery bore me. People who avoid confronting ambiguity are even worse and are to be avoided at all costs or challenged relentlessly. Unless a person has deluded herself with one of the many worldviews that preach hard realities and absolutes, then she best get comfortable with ambiguity. For some, the concept of ambiguity is something they want to avoid in literature or film or music or their relationships or their day-to-day existence—I emphatically do not write for those people, unless they are open to challenging their relationship to ambiguity.
The things you think of to link are not in your own control. It’s just who you are, bumping into the world. But how you link them is what shows the nature of your mind. Individuality resides in the way links are made.
People are frightened of themselves. It’s like Freud saying that the best thing is to have no sensation at all, as if we’re supposed to live painlessly and unconsciously in the world. I have a much different view. The ancients are right: the dear old human experience is a singular, difficult, shadowed, brilliant experience that does not resolve into being comfortable in the world. The valley of the shadow is part of that, and you are depriving yourself if you do not experience what humankind has experienced, including doubt and sorrow. We experience pain and difficulty as failure instead of saying, I will pass through this, everyone I have ever admired has passed through this, music has come out of this, literature has come out of it. We should think of our humanity as a privilege.
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