Wednesday, May 21, 2008

On Writing

Stephen King and Jonathan Franzen on Writing

From the new New Yorker litblog, Book Bench, blogger Ligaya Mishan writes about Stephen King's writing memoir, On Writing (not sure why a seven-year-old book is ripe for material other than someone has a quota to meet):

There are some authors who have no problem meeting their daily word count. Stephen King, in his hybrid memoir-manual On Writing notes vaguely that he's written "thirty-five or so" novels and wonders, somewhat impatiently, what exactly writers do with their time when they're not writing:

Knit afghans? Organize church bazaars? Deify plums? I'm probably being snotty here, but I am also, believe me, honestly curious. If God gives you something you can do, why in God's name wouldn't you do it?

What do writers do when they aren't writing? Trying to not become a hack? No. I like King; I read him voraciously as a child. And I do have a few unread King novels to get to in time. But from this short passage perhaps I'm wrongly under the belief that King is saying writing is easy. People who say that have likely not tried it, or when they have, haven't written anything of worth.

In an interview at B&, Jonathan Franzen comments on the current craze of cellphone novels from Japan:

As for those Japanese novels: most new novels published anywhere in any given year are, strictly speaking, bad. And, in my experience, the natural tendency of all beginning writers is to produce thin, formulaic, clumsy, posturing, clich├ęd, sentimental, poorly crafted work. It's possible that one of those cellphone novels is good, and it's possible that beginners writing in Japanese are vastly more accomplished than beginners writing in English. But it doesn't seem very likely.

What's important from Franzen's comment is the acknowledgment the quality of most writing. I disagree with the idea that the best writers are the ones who publish book after book, almost on yearly schedule. I think writers, novelists and non-fictionists (I'm coining a new word), would be better off if they stepped back and didn't rush to complete another book (though this isn't typically a problem associated with non-fictionists). Why would you want to have your name on something lacking any worth then the time you hastily wrote it in?

People who want to be novelists often make the mistake of dreaming about writing many great novels. It's rare an author will write one let alone one. It would be more refreshing to hear a newly published writer say they're not sure if they'll write another since the first one was just so damn hard.

Of course that's not to say doing something hard a second time shouldn't be attempted, but I prefer a writer who admits the difficulty of the task rather than envisions his or her next new dust jacket.


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