Forum / Philosophy of Writing

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    Ivan R.
    Oct 10, 02:59pm

    I have been desiring recently to create a thread dedicated to the discussion of writing, its philosophy (your philosophy), of styles (what is 'style' anyway?), the joys of writing and reading, writers who bent the meaning of 'good writing,' and what you believe makes 'good writing.'

    I think a good place to start would be, what do you believe makes good writing, or writing good? What tools (of the artist) do you enjoy seeing (if you believe there be such 'tools')? Also, if you have an author whose writing you feel a connection to on a level below the surface of their writing, feel free to use them as example.

    (I will not ask what you use in your own writing, because that is like asking a millipede how he uses all them legs to walk. He'll forget, suddenly, doomed, spending the rest of his days struggling to walk a straight line. . .)

    I hope this is something interesting for everyone!

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    Ivan R.
    Oct 10, 07:56pm

    In my most humble opinion there are varying degrees of richness in literature. So, just because it is not Ulysses does not mean it is rubbish. The only function of writing, and Art for that matter is to entertain. Where this entertainment lies is where things really get fun. Because entertainment is not a word holding a solid meaning, it is fluid, taking the shape of a person like a jar filled with water. Perhaps it is not a jar. Perhaps it is a glass, or pitcher. Now the thing looks different completely. But still, it remains entertainment.

    The reason I find this 'entertain' aspect of Art fascinating, is that it opens completely every option for the artist, for the one desiring expression and creation. I do not believe in the rejection of plot, but I am a firm believer in the shrinking of plot. Shrink it down to the size of one molecule, so it is the smallest thing in your story, and allow the story to flow freely from your instinct to the page. The writers that do this are the ones I consider to be geniuses. Joyce is one step above even that echelon, IMO.

    Ok, so now I have mapped out the largest picture of good writing I have without becoming tedious; on to Great writing. Very simply, this is a person's power of observation. I'm sure we all know what I mean, its what elevates Joyce and Nabokov and others to their holy statuses, that when they say something we say 'holy f**k that's IT.' The mixture of the two elements is difficult, and cannot be faked, but it can be learned. Little hints along the way can help improve a crippled story. But the goal should always be originality. Accomplish all this, and you're a bona fide GD genius in my book. Always nurture originality beyond sounding precious.

    And for the sake of possible conversation, I am personally saddened when I look around at the state of Art (and writing) today. We're sposedta be moving forward no?

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    Darryl Price
    Oct 10, 09:00pm

    I think good writing is just that. It works. It tastes good in every sense of the word. The sentence structure is solid and beautifully constructed from beginning to end. Surprises that are thrown in are done so to improve the experience to the reader.It doesn't pander, it pleases the senses beyond the mere reading of words on the page. It invites and beckons, but in a free to all way.meaning it engages immediately but without prejudice. But, Darryl, you say, cannot a good piece of writing be performed with its own prejudices well intact? Indeed!That's where the artistry comes in. That's where you get to put your own individual stamp on the thing. All I'm saying is, does it breathe, Dr. Frankenstein, does it live well within its own bounds? Are you willing to let go? Do you believe it to be true to the best of your knowledge? So many questions. And as many answers as there are writers.

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    Ann Bogle
    Oct 10, 10:00pm

    Lately, I read very little yet all the time. I'm always scouting for the experience created by someone's short (short) story or poem that reaches out of a kind of not knowing INTO a feeling of peace or concentration. CLARITY OR ENOUGH is the title of a volume of mixed-genre prose pieces I'd like to get published. The stories (even the essays in it tell stories) I wrote 2001-2011. Another volume includes stories I wrote 1985-2000. Together, the group is called NECESSARY HEAT. I do not submit to reading novels very often (anymore) or even to reading (or estimating) very long stories. Most of my major reading may be behind me or perhaps more is coming. Sometimes I don't know what writing is FOR except to make more of it. Other times I think it's a discipline or practice, one that other writers (with that know-how) understand best. I'll consider Ivan's idea that the purpose of writing is always in some way to entertain.

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    See ya
    Oct 20, 05:36pm

    Write what your heart dictates.

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    Susan Tepper
    Oct 20, 08:31pm

    I like to write when I'm hungry. It seems to spur me along. But then the desired food item finds a way into the story. During one novel my protagonist ate a lot of doughnuts, and so did I..

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    David Ackley
    Oct 20, 09:29pm

    I read this yesterday in an old Paris Review interview with Norman Mailer who said he asked his old friend, "mentor" we'd call him now, Jean Malaquis, why be bothered to write since it caused him so much anguish. Malaquis said," But this is the only way one can ever find the truth. The only time I know something is true is at the moment I discover it in the act of writing." Mailer went on to say he thought that was it for him as well, that " you're in love with the truth when you discover it at the point of a pencil...in and by itself one of the few rare pleasures in life."

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    Ann Bogle
    Oct 21, 03:58am

    Here's one I keep:

    "Are you thrifty with your originality, saving it for art, or do you dispose of it in daily life?" -- Cynthia Ozick

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    James Lloyd Davis
    Oct 21, 06:28am

    Thrift presumes limitations. If you live your life with originality, live your life as though it was an art, your art will reflect your life.

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    Linda Simoni-Wastila
    Oct 21, 03:46pm

    Cool thread and responses.

    Been struggling with this in my writing class. First, identifying/understanding the philosophies of contemporary US writers and whether/how they convey their writing philosophies in an artful way.

    Second, trying to figure out what my own philosophy is. I think that is (and should be) a continual work-in-progress, but for now I would have to say finding those moments in life that prove watersheds, though the narrator may not realize that at first, and then finding a way to convey that pregnant pause that is meaningful. Peace...

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    MaryAnne Kolton
    Oct 21, 09:00pm

    I so agree with Sheldon. "Write what your heart dictates." Why must a writing philosophy exist? Can't we just write when the personal need arises?

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    Marcus Speh
    Oct 22, 08:24am

    Obviously everyone should write when and how s/he pleases. But there's a but, a big, fat philosophical butt to this question, unless philosophy and the history of intellect is dead once and for all & we must fully and solely engage with a reality that knows little of the past & indeed only cares about entertainment.

    I don’t think what your heart dictates is necessarily good writing. I also don’t think writing for entertainment produces good writing. Darryl’s criteria of “tastes good in every sense of the word” is very tempting (if only because his tastebuds must be very fine, judging from his own writing) but it’s also too self-involved and poetically idiomatic to serve me well.

    What is it then? For me, good writing is always edifying, always moralistic, and it always manages to transport its message, content or whatever you like to call it in a way that’s artistically worked through, as it were, namely as story. This does not even exclude poetry, which still tells story but relies on a different texture and fabric perhaps—a differently cut garment perhaps that still covers our quintessential, existential nakedness.

    And naked we are, today more so than ever.

    Last night, I watched, the execution of General Ghaddafi by a mob (don’t do it) & I heard about the Chinese toddler being run over, the dying child being ignored by several passersby.

    We need messages and morals as John Gardner demanded thirty years ago in “Moral Fiction”, morals which help us keep this civilization going, which is built on (good) art and (good) writing (not the other way around); we must not fall back into the dark night that Sigmund Freud wrote about more than 100 years ago in “Civilization and its Discontents”: «One feels inclined to say that the intention that man should be "happy" is not included in the plan of "Creation”.» We must look into the abyss and return from it speaking the truth.

    In extension of what Sheldon and MaryAnn said already, perhaps we need not just one, but thousands, or millions of hearts beating as one in the rhythm of social media, writing for the future of humanity. Which brings me to Writers <a href=“http://occupywriters.com/“>Occupy Wall Street</a>, but more of that in a few weeks from <a href=“http://www.onlineprnews.com/news/175097-1318357122-dc-area-publishing-house-fights-divisive-rhetoric-with-nonpartisan-candor.html”>Six Degrees Left</a>…

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    Marcus Speh
    Oct 22, 08:52am

    ...when I told my wife how bad I felt all night after watching those videos I talked about (above), she showed me something that is apt to restore everyone's belief in humanity: "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/13/man-rescued-from-under-burning-car_n_960247.html">Bystanders lift burning car to save pinned motorcyclist</a>". Yes to this story.

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    Ann Bogle
    Oct 22, 10:45am

    Marcus, what is the moral of today's writer's nakedness?

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    Ann Bogle
    Oct 22, 10:51am

    Another quotation from Cynthia Ozick:

    "What is needed," Ozick writes [in Harper's as quoted by Sven Birkerts at boston.com], "is a broad infrastructure, through a critical mass of critics, of the kind of criticism that can define, or prompt, or inspire, or at least intuit, what is happening in a culture in a given time frame. . . . In this there is something almost ceremonial, or ceremoniously slow: unhurried thinking, the ripened long (or sidewise) view, the gradualism of nuance."

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    Marcus Speh
    Oct 22, 10:57am

    @Ann "what is the moral of today's writer's nakedness?" — The nakedness you speak of, the writer's, the artist's nakedness, is the same as ever. If Camus is right, who said

    <blockquote>“The pur­pose of a writer is to keep civ­i­liza­tion from destroy­ing itself.”</blockquote>

    then it is perhaps the nakedness of Cassandra, the messenger whose message nobody really wishes to hear so he's cast out and (on the whole) disregarded...but the hearts of men still listen, I believe.

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    Susan Tepper
    Oct 22, 11:59am

    I read something by the writer Jayne Ann Phillips when she was interviewed. She was asked about the "edgy" nature of her work, and she said (I paraphrase here): there's nothing much edgy left to write about. It's all being carried out publicly by the society at large.
    I believe this to be true. Reality TV and movie stars have made "edge" into Pablum. As writers today, we need to probe more into the soulful aspect of life and death, the under layers, or what is existentially meaningful in today's world.
    It all is kind of disconcerting, but then there's always Magical Realism when all else fails.

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    Linda Simoni-Wastila
    Oct 22, 01:01pm

    I am not so sure writers alone share the burden of keeping civilization from destroying itself. I certainly do not want that mantle.

    I would like to think writers have the responsibility of writing honestly about their worlds, the ugly, bad, and good.

    I also think when we write about our worlds, we have some obligation to the reader -- and ourselves -- to convey the moments we write about, and the characters, with as much care and art as we can. To impart meaning and, hence, beauty, in the realization of our worlds. Peace...

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    Matthew Robinson
    Oct 22, 03:41pm

    Occupy Human Consciousness! #OHC

    In my search for what good writing is to me, I've turned almost completely inward. One thing I've discovered is that I'm trying to answer questions I've had my entire life. Some are questions that--through reading and experience I've learned--everyone has asked: Why do people get divorced? Why is death so sad? What is the purpose of a sentient existence and to whom do we owe the credit for it? And so on.

    There are more existential questions as well, but some questions just come from lala land. Among the thousands: Why does the crackle of sizzling bacon all but physically transport me back to 1998? Why does music make me go nearly blind? Why sometimes can I not stop smiling for several hours in a row? Why does the word "verb" arouse me, sexually?

    Good writing is the result of a writer working tirelessly to answer the questions he or she must answer to get the most out of his/her tragically introspective life. (And, hopefully, craft it in such a way that will entertain others.)

    But, when I look outward and try to make sense of the world, I wonder exactly what is happening that I/we are not seeing. I dig for the subversive alternate of social acceptability. Sometimes that means redressing convention, sometimes it means blowing it up altogether. Good writing is the uncovering of the socially unspoken. Uncover it and let it fly.

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    W.F. Lantry
    Oct 22, 03:50pm

    So much of this seems focused on the writer, and the writer's role, which I guess is natural, but it's still a bit of a downer. Rather like a lover who's focused on his or her own experience, own pleasure, instead of being focused on the loved one's pleasure or experience. This just leads to a world where everyone's either performing an action or being acted upon, rather like the 19th century relation between writer and reader. Haven't we gone beyond that?

    We need to forget ourselves for a little while and refocus on the reader. Our experience, our interest, our needs, none of those things should matter. The only thing that matters is the experience of the reader. That's the only way to achieve actual ecstatic communion. And isn't that our only real goal?

    Thanks,

    Bill

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    Matthew Robinson
    Oct 22, 04:08pm

    Fair point, Bill, but when it comes to the reader, I defer to Vonnegut:

    "Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia."

    Then again, he also said, "Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted."

    My "one person" is my image of a rational, open-minded, mostly-sane person who wants circumference but surprise as well. (This person may be as fictional as the fiction I write, but still...) But, if you write with the intent of sharing the work with the open public, the reader has already been considered as much as the reader needs to be, I think. I wouldn't put a story out there that I didn't think was complete, clean, interesting and entertaining, I just wouldn't.

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    Ann Bogle
    Oct 22, 06:23pm

    From Annie Dillard:

    "Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?"

    http://www.nytimes.com/books/99/03/28/specials/dillard-drop.html

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    Ann Bogle
    Oct 22, 06:31pm

    "So much of writing is about writing, until the writer finds her subject."

    --Christa Forster

    "Do It Yourself":

    http://www.christaforster.com/2007/07/do-it-yourself.html

    "I explained how I choose a genre in which to write: blog entries are about turning the daily into the daily bread. Fiction is about crafting art from an experience that seems ripe with symbolism. Poetry is about turning to the ether, pulling something from it, and through the imagination, creating something 'Fanciful' from the sheer air: A rarity of the imagination, so rare that it makes the indecipherable plain. Poetry clears the mind's eye with all its glorious confusion. And there are no resolutions in poetry, only pauses."

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    Ann Bogle
    Oct 22, 06:34pm

    Matthew, this is reusable: "Good writing is the uncovering of the socially unspoken."

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    Matthew Robinson
    Oct 22, 09:48pm

    Thanks, Ann!

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    David Ackley
    Oct 23, 04:35am

    When asked why she wrote, Flannery O'Connor said, " Because I'm good at it."

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    James Lloyd Davis
    Oct 23, 03:20pm

    Flannery O'Connor was not afraid to hurt people in her fiction. She was not afraid to make her people look bad, sadly preposterous, even vindictive when it served the story, morally corrupt. Sometimes people lose sight of the fact that storytelling is what fiction really is. Don't know why. Maybe it's the atmosphere, the water, or chemicals they slip into your Starbucks. Maybe it's the influence of unicorns on printed bedsheets.

    Why does anyone need a philosophy in order to write? Chaos, cruelty, murder, incest, anger, aggressive behavior in the fiction will not lead a reader into transgression, but boredom is the devil's workshop and if our fiction lacks sufficient prurient grace, perhaps an idle mind will evolve exponentially to fill in the gap, turn the readership into sublimated Rasputins and Bonnie Parkers waiting only for the right moment to act out their fantasies.

    I think we need to write fiction with the idea that fiction is fiction, after all, not real, but utter imagination. What good is art if it makes the brain crave oxygen?

    Disclaimer: I'm only half-serious. As to which half? I'm not sure.

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    stephen hastings-king
    Oct 24, 06:06pm

    when people say something like there's no philosophical underpinning to writing that does not speak to whether there is or is not a philosophical position that underpins how one writes and what one writes about---of course there is.

    for example, a commitment to immediacy makes no sense outside of a tradition that establishes (through a long sequence of constrasts with, say, mediation) what immediacy could possibly mean.

    any choice that you make with respect to this fiction we call the world is in a sense a philosophical to the extent that any choice you make reflects a position with respect to this fiction we call the world and in order to take positions you have to have something with reference to which they make sense for you. and if you do that---make moves or adopt position with respect to this fiction we call the world that make sense to you---then you have a philosophy.

    so, the way i see it anyway, the question is not really whether there is or is not a philosophy that shapes how one writes. of course there is. without one, none of us would be writing. the questions are more on the order of: what kind of self-awareness is one going to bring to that philosophy that shapes what one does and how one does it.

    and this gets to an aesthetic matter---to what extent do you think that self-awareness at a conceptual level is important?

    and this leads to another: what is your basic political or dispositional relationship to the world around you? because, in general, the closer you are to finding that world and its various forms of organization to be not real problematic, the closer you will tend to be to finding the ways in which you operate not problematic.

    but this line of thinking pushes in an anti-representational direction. which i'm fine with, personally. but that's a choice--a conceptual and political choice--just as representation is.

    i don't find moralizing to be interesting---and here it's kierkegaard territory, the distinction between the ironic and the ethical, with the criterion of the interesting being central to the ironic. but i do sometimes find satire to be fun to do. is that the same as moralizing? i'm not sure.

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    James Lloyd Davis
    Oct 25, 12:37am

    Some of the best writing, I think, attempts and often succeeds in both obtaining a moral perspective and thrilling the reader. A trick of the light, mirrors, smoke, sometimes even a blunt instrument, metaphorical two by fours may be used, but it's the entertainment that enrapts while the moral sneaks up behind you, whacks you on the head, takes your wallet ... again, metaphorically speaking, unless your getting hard bound best seller price and volume (yes, yes, I know ... best sellers are never good literature and god forbid we call them art.....). But that's another duck hunt.

    The more subtle the moralizing, the more entertaining the fiction will be, I think. No damn soliloquy's gonna fly in Newport anymore, nor on the internet. You want hide that moral, hide it so deep, the reader believes he thought it up on his own time with his own dime. It's an old trick. Very old, but still viable.

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    Sam Rasnake
    Oct 25, 01:56am

    William Stafford, from “A Just Right Resonance,” The Answers Are Inside the Mountains

    “The action of writing is the successive discovery of cumulative epiphanies in the self’s encounter with the world. It would be too much to say that art, the practice of it, will establish a ‘good,’ a serene, a superior self. No. But art will, if pursued for itself and not for adventitious reasons or by spurious ways, bring into sustained realization the self most centrally yours, freed from its emergencies and the distortions brought by greed, or fear, or ambition.”

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    Christopher Allen
    Oct 25, 07:30am

    Lots of cold medicine is coursing through my veins--hopefully on their way to my sinuses--so I might read this later and think that it itself is not good writing.

    I agree very strongly that writing should "do no harm"--just like any other action we take as humans. Problem is, with the aim of writing something that inspires or challenges or sublimes, lots of writers fall into sentimentality. Writing from the heart is GREAT advice provided that the writer is GREAT already.

    Bad writing (stylistically substandard) is not necessarily bad writing (morally harmful). There's lots of both kinds out there. I have a lot of the first kind in my "Unpublished" files on my computer.

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    Marcus Speh
    Oct 25, 10:19am

    this thread really did it to me. where's ivan r. to pick up the shards? who is ivan r. anyway?

    enjoyed the quotes, too; i feel good on "kierkegaard territory" (SHK). i don't think essays are, after all, my strong suit, at least not in english.

    but the topic and its implication (good/bad, im/moral) <a href="http://www.fictionaut.com/stories/marcus-speh/the-sodomized-dictator">made me write</a>, if it's good or bad i don't know (i never know that until after a long time or never) but it's as close to a "moral commentary" as i can imagine, with all the ambivalence and ambiguity that belongs to our modern world. this whole discussion is a powerful proof of that.

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    James Lloyd Davis
    Oct 25, 10:55am

    I wonder if a writer has any control over what does or does not do harm. Nonetheless, if the theme of a fiction contains moralistic impressions lurking just beneath the surface like a great white shark ... and, say it takes a bite out of a hypocrite, where's the harm in that?

    It's always a little dicey when you talk about moral implications, since morality is relative to the culture and in eternal dispute on all fronts. But if there is no moral implication inherent in literature, why do the book banners and burners get so enraged?

    Our post-post-modernist epoch is reminiscent of earlier times when all the stops were pulled and literature, freed from censorship by the gatekeeper press has flooded the internet with every imaginable type and style of fiction.

    I suspect there is out there some future firebrand, enthralled and fascinated, shocked and incited, studying new methods for reigning in this universal, permissive, and pervasive new world of words. Hard to imagine how he/she/it/they will manage to burn down the internet, but reaction is inevitable. Universal and unlimited personal/global communication is bringing down governments, attacking the long-standing structures of every self-interested center of power. "They" will not sit idly by while all they hold precious, their money, their power, is sifted like the sands of the Libyan desert.

    Kierkegaard may not have embraced fiction, but Kurt Vonnegut walked often into Kierkegaard territory. There is voluminous almost encyclopedic moral commentary in his work, marvelously concealed and camouflaged, but clear enough a child can grasp the bite of it. The power of it is measured by the reactionary attempts to ban his books.

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    Marcus Speh
    Oct 25, 11:38am

    i shall keep this for my wall: <blockquote>«Our post-post-modernist epoch is reminiscent of earlier times when all the stops were pulled and literature, freed from censorship by the gatekeeper press has flooded the internet with every imaginable type and style of fiction.» (James Lloyd Davis)</blockquote>

    Totally agree on Kirkegaard & Vonnegut. There was but one powerful source to V.s writing, his experiences as a survivor of <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of_Dresden_in_World_War_II">the Dresden bombings</a>.

    about your really interesting question "does a writer have control or what does or does not do harm" (to the reader): i think he doesn't have control, but a responsibility nevertheless. it's the profound paradox of making anything: you don't control the response but you're still responsible for it. a little like having children when i think about it. though i don't want to carry this too far...there must still be some room for irresponsibility and creative craziness...

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    Ann Bogle
    Oct 25, 01:12pm

    "I don't read to be taught moral lessons."

    --Carol Novack

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    Sam Rasnake
    Oct 25, 03:23pm

    I absolutely understand the notion that the writer has a certain responsibility - though my own notion of this is that the responsibility is to the art. I never have a reader in mind when I write, and never really plan to start. That's not why or how I write. I do recognize though that other writers will approach this from a different angle and view.

    Also, agree with the idea that control is, in its own way, out of the hands of the writer. The bulk of this discussion is focused on prose. With regard to poetry, I believe the poem writes the poet. The poet shouldn't write the poem.

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    MaryAnne Kolton
    Oct 25, 04:47pm

    Now I understand why I love you Mr. W. F. Lantry. . .

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    Marcus Speh
    Oct 25, 05:52pm

    @sam —it's good you said that, sam — i think the prose writes the prose writer, too. this is another name for the paradox i spoke of. i think being able to stand the paradox between moral responsibility (not "moral lessons", please...) and the ultimately divine origin of art is one of the abilities required from those who wish to write well. an ability, which btw i believe everyone i know on fictionaut has got. this is a most responsible and circumspect community.

    ultimately, when you're in the hands of the muse, you must give up ego and will (no matter what your form or genre) if you don't want to shoo her away.

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    Sam Rasnake
    Oct 25, 09:35pm

    Yes, yes, Marcus. I agree absolutely.

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    Ann Bogle
    Oct 25, 11:07pm

    People I know who are not writers or artists, who work to win profits for an employer, who earn enough, at best, to pay living expenses without much hope of retiring, see artists as irresponsible by definition. These same people feel art and writing are justified if the artist or writer is making a full living at it. Teaching is often, but not always, a respected profession that leads to the creation of more art, more artists, more writing, more writers. Writing may be akin to religion or displace religion. I sometimes see it as a form of mental athleticism. I was once highly idealistic, even branching in a long ms. into a type of lyrical, ungainly philosophy. I gave myself fifteen rules to follow in composition, listed somewhere in the pages.

    Recently I became aware that writers in their thirties, people I've met, have patterned their lives after the modernist poets or the American short story writers of the South or men whose novels are about war. If I could, I would still pattern my novels (if I wrote novels) after those of Jean Rhys. My life pattern, if not my philosophy of writing, has not been so different from hers, unintentionally so. Her life was difficult and not observably moral. Her husband was a criminal. I think she drank. She didn't like to write, but she wrote into old age.

    From a review of her biography: "She had never wanted to be a writer, she insisted; she had never gotten any pleasure from it at all. (And yet she always went on writing, even when nobody cared if she did or not: if she stopped, she told an imaginary prosecutor in her diary, 'I will not have earned death.')"

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    stephen hastings-king
    Oct 26, 04:32pm


    Recently, I stumbled across a copy of John Cage's collection "A Year from Monday," which I had not seen before. In it he tells a little story that he also tells in the pieces collected as "Silence" which I have seen many times before. It is curious to consider why one might tell the same story over and over again and the extent to which that telling over and over again reflects changes on the part of the person telling the story with respect to the story that mirror in some way the changes that can happen with respect to that same story for a reader who's contact with that story operates on a very different time-scale. Then I think: Perhaps it doesn't matter.

    And so, without further ado, and with the spacing from the Julliard Lecture eliminated, here's the little story:

    In the course of a lecture last winter on Zen Buddhism, Dr. Suzuki said: Before studying Zen, men are men and mountains are mountains. While studying Zen, one gets confused: one doesn't know exactly what is what and which is which. After studying Zen, men are men and mountains are mountains.

    After the lecture, the question was asked: Dr. Suzuki, what is the difference between men are men and mountains are mountains before studying Zen and men are men and mountains are mountains after studying Zen?

    Suzuki answered: Just the same only somewhat as though you had your feet a little off the ground.

    That's like what I think of the relation between philosophy and writing but better than what I think of the relation between them.

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    Ivan R.
    Oct 27, 06:38am

    Marcus, unfortunately for me I do not have the internet at home, so I usually have to wait until I can go to a friend's place for internet. Those times are too rare.

    Well, a philosophy of writing is not necessary for the artist, the writer. I agree with stephen hk when he says: "when people say something like there's no philosophical underpinning to writing that does not speak to whether there is or is not a philosophical position that underpins how one writes and what one writes about---of course there is."

    A writer, an artist, a comedian, a poet, they pursue their craft for reasons which they may or may not wish to uncover. It is not necessary to do so; I find personal pleasure in such pursuits and gratification as well.

    A writer need not set out to change the world, in my opinion. However, this certainly seems to be his role (I only use the masculine term 'his' for simplicity's sake, and place an imaginary 'her/' in front of every 'his', henceforth). Whether or not he fulfills that role is completely up to him. Artist is just another label anyway.

    It seems to be an artist is a man with great creative strength, great enough that he will certainly create -- most certainly create -- something modest perhaps, Let It Be perhaps, but he does it first and foremost for himself (possibly for the Art itself, but again since I have come to believe that human beings [and I could be wrong about this!] ONLY live by proxy [and so he IS his art], constantly defining ourselves, redefining, shattering, an ellipses, defining, redefining, etc. Fortunately not all feel the need to reach the shattering phase.)

    When an artist sets out on doing this terrifying thing as discovering some truths about the world, about humanity, and ultimately herself, for the good of himself, you cannot ask that person to be careful as to the moral implications of their writing, the possibility of harm which the writing might inspire. That seems asking too much. By taking their risks and drenching themselves in the abyss for a while, they become better people. They crawled into that abyss we all know is there and came out with something magnificent and illuminating. The fact that they would even like to share that with any of us should be looked at as a true gift.

    I am brought back by sleepiness and a hazy head, to my original comment, that Art is to entertain, and artists need be entertainers. They do not need to make us giggle or clap; they are not clowns and jugglers, they are not statues for us. They entertain us, stimulate us, MAKE us FEEL something, remind us of why its amazing to be alive or why we don't just turn to the complete destruction of ourselves and of everything else as well. Then again, they don't have to do a damn thing for us, and that sort of artwork can be just as beautiful and inspiring.

    And, James, I completely agree that the type of story you describe is probably the best.

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    Matt Potter
    Oct 27, 10:28am

    Oh, I loathe the words 'good writing' ... they are worse than the words 'immature' and 'unprofessional', words used by people who want you to behave differently.

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    Matthew Robinson
    Oct 27, 05:30pm

    @Matt Potter: haha, you must hear these words often? ;)

    No but seriously, I agree that the subjectivity of 'good writing' can be infuriating, especially to frequently-biased-against genre writers, but without these kinds of words and discussions, how would any writer discover his/her identity through craft?

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    Ann Bogle
    Oct 28, 06:52pm

    I learned at 25 to keep my book titles confidential, and I've tried it all ways, telling no one, telling someone, and now telling "the universe." This time it had the effect of jarring me. I realized after noting my title(s) in this thread that I didn't like as much as I thought I did calling two books under one name or the name itself, Necessary Heat. Then, too, it may be moody to change a title already out to houses. How to know? I spent yesterday revising a subgroup of short shorts, creating a need for yet another title, and that has led to an idea for titles for the (two) full-length sets. Texas Was Better (1985-2000) and Clarity or Enough (2001-2011). It takes so long. Hurry, hurry.

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    Matthew Robinson
    Oct 28, 11:38pm

    Titles are a strange thing. I can get a little hung up on them sometimes, and they can change more times than there are drafts in a story. Blah.

    Also, a revision on my kind-of-dumb previous post: the term "good writing" is, to each individual writer and reader, their way of saying "satisfying writing." BECAUSE what constitutes "good writing" is so subjective, our judgmental nature betrays us as we search for what truly "satisfies" us by being "good."

    Whether or not that makes more or less sense, it certainly better articulates the point I failed to make in my previous post.

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    Gill Hoffs
    Oct 29, 10:22pm

    I think the only analogy I can think of to help crystallize my thoughts on the process of creative writing [as opposed to straighforward diarising etc.] is the old one of the magnifying glass and the ants. If someone was to shine a bright light on their ants of creativity they risk them scurrying away or if they really look closely destroying them completely. If I overthink a story it comes to the page completely wrong. I have to let my fingers do the thinking. But I think if you take ten writers, even if they have superficially similar styles and/or subjects and ask them to detail their writing strategies there would probably be great differences between them - whatever works, works.

    As regards morality and writing, I'm just not sure. I'm not attracted to the kind of stories that overtly moralise [or at least that's how some read to me] but equally I'm not comfortable reading work that appears to glamourise animal abuse etc. I guess as a reader I try to take responsibility for what I bring to my mind from external sources, and as a writer I try to make sure not to make hurtful practises and attitudes attractive or acceptable to the reader - though I may try to make a character who has these attitudes sympathetic to the reader. Reflecting real life events doesn't necessarily mean I think the events should happen again.

    As a side bar, I've been really struggling to get on here at times, so if I disappear and seem to be ignoring any of you or the following responses, I'm honestly not and will try to get on when I can.

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    Ivan R.
    Oct 31, 06:05pm

    ‎"At one time I thought the most important thing was talent. I think now that the young man or the young woman must possess or teach himself, training himself, in infinite patience, which is to try and to try until it comes right. He must train himself in ruthless intolerance--that is to throw away anything that is false no matter how much he might love that page or that paragraph. The most important thing is insight, that is to be--curious--to wonder, to mull, and to muse why it is that man does what he does, and if you have that, then I don't think the talent makes much difference, whether you've got it or not."

    This was the Faulkner quote that really set my mind to wondering what it was about the works I initially loved, the ones that set me forever on the road of literature (a road which has been branching and broadening ever since), that made me love them.

    Was it the pyrotechnics of Moby Dick that had my heart so entranced? Well why didn't I love The Scarlet Letter in the same way, as I had expected (and, indeed, it did seem that this expectation and sheer desire to love it in the same ebullient way should have secured that outcome), although I did like it? Simply liked it though...

    Or, perhaps, was it the fact that I had felt something of the same tortured spirit that I feel within me within almost every line of that wonderful book. I felt Melville, I thought. At the very least, I felt FOR him. And then, feeling some kindred warmth somehow fluttered across a century plus, like feathers falling forever and grazing me gently against their infinite continuation, I wanted to get something of my own "out there".

    And I keep thinking, I keep thinking.
    I keep reading, I keep reading.
    I keep feeling, I keep feeling.

    I have led myself away from all those things which made me love reading, by focusing all-too-much on the things which ought to be admired and not split open, like myself and others, and their writings alike. I isolated myself, and I'll avoid getting too personal here, but I reached a terrifying point in my once-normal, once-allenjoyable life. But, with all my introspection I am arriving once again to a place I feel comfortable and full of life. And funny enough, with all my introspection I ended up exactly where I had departed. I can see that little island of my departure looming in the distant fog, little and dark and funny-shaped and mine.

    And, here, appropriately, is a line I underlined the very first time I read Moby Dick and fell in love with the world:

    "Round the world! There is much in that sound to inspire proud feelings; but whereto does all this circumnavigation conduct? Only through numberless perils to the very point whence we started, where those that we left behind secure, were all the time before us."

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    James Lloyd Davis
    Oct 31, 07:05pm

    There's the fine thought you need, I think. Best of luck, Ivan. I think you have the measure of it all.

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    Ann Bogle
    Nov 03, 01:28pm

    Joe Bonomo has an essay in Gulf Coast, vol. 24, issue 1 called "Live Nude Essay!" that reminds me of Marcus' comment about writer nudity. I don't want to overpraise the essay. Its execution seems flawed, though it strives for a newness of structure. Bonomo examines how nudity relates to true disclosure in a culture that refuses to be shocked.

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    Bobbi Lurie
    Nov 10, 05:27pm

    I do not care for writing that moralizes. I am with Ann and Carol on that. I think writing which illuminates our human situation is the most fulfilling and the most needed. I think writing which does not hide from what it means to be human is the most significant writing. I search for it. I search for honesty in writing. I search for writers who have explored their inner workings and don't hide from it but are aware of the ambiguity of being a human being in terms of "morals" and "ideals"
    For me, good writing is writing that creates connections rather than separation between people. ie; Political writing is inherently divisive in that it tends to divide and to characterize those who do not share its view to be people who are "less-than."
    The challenge a good writer has is to express his views so that there is room for the reader to see things independently yet also make a connection with the writer and what the writer is trying to express, something often ambiguous to the writer (vs. "morals"). This takes courage on the part of the writer, courage to be honest about his motives, courage to explore his/ her inner being and inconsistencies. Compassion can come in many forms but absorption in the writer's work is crucial, absorption on the part of the writer and reader, both. The best writing presents an atmosphere of the writer's very consciousness in a way that is subtle and comprehensible. This requires great skill and great writing is skillful writing. It is writing that respects language, metaphor, nuance.
    Leaving the reader with a question, in my mind, is the highest form because it does not impose, it presents.

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    Ann Bogle
    Nov 13, 09:38am

    Thanks, Bobbi.

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    RW Spryszak
    Nov 13, 11:08am

    I can't imagine how one goes about doing message or morals in a story on purpose without mucking it up. It's hard enough work just to write a damn story let alone adding a layer of pontification to the damn thing to boot.

    I'm drawn to a fully conceptualized voice in the stuff I like to read. To me that's everything. And dialog written like people actually speak is the second thing. If you do that I'll be willing. But if you throw a message at me I'll probably hurl. So when I'm writing that's what I try for. Because I wouldn't want to insult people's intelligence. I know what a starving kid in Guatamala looks like, you don't have to remind me.

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    Darryl Price
    Nov 13, 04:16pm

    Taken all together, I find myself nodding in agreement here and wishing I'd said this or that thing there, or wondering why I didn't make that particular important point myself when I had the chance. But it's all because I was simply being honest in the moment.I wasn't trying to come up with the right answer, but my own answer. I look at this marvelous thread as a kind of strange course in modern writing. It teaches. It challenges. It makes me laugh (and cringe).It spurs me on to new creativity,such as this paragraph before you. It demands action. And as you can see by the many varied results on display, it gets it. I'm very fond of all of you. That's what I've gotten out of this particular thread today. For me, just hearing the lot of you toss this great big idea around and back and forth is amazing. Such passion.Such obstinance. One writes on purpose, but I don't think that has to mean that a good piece of writing moralizes on purpose. It can. I just don't think it does.

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