So much reading about writing that you might start to hate me

“A Writing Woman” by Gail Godwin is a really excellent piece — almost more a story than an essay or an advice column.

(This is the fourth and final of the Atlantic Monthly articles I mentioned, BUT then there is their whole archive of literary interviews, plus a few articles I found elsewhere. It never ends!)

Fact and fiction, fiction and fact. Which stops where, and how much to put in of each? At what point does regurgitated autobiography graduate into memory shaped by art? How do you know when to stop telling it as it is, or was, and make it into what it ought to be—or what would make a better story?

I think that’s something every fiction (or “fiction”) writer wrestles with. I still remember when Catie scratched out “Fiction Workshop” in the header of one of my stories and wrote (lovingly), “LIIIIES!!”

We are told to write what we know, and then told that what really happened is too boring, or unresolved. Dialogue should be lifelike, not peppered with the yeahs and ums and whats that we really hear. But so much fiction doesn’t “ring true.” And so much non-fiction (at least lately) has been exposed as fabrication.

Where is the line? Does it matter (to readers)? Isn’t it all just marketing anyway?

I don’t have any answers. Just my own struggles.

I was badly in need of a miracle. I was twenty‑seven years old and had not yet become what I had wanted to be since the age five: a writer. True, I wrote every evening, long exhaustive entries in my journal, to compensate for boring days. I had stayed for three years in my cushy government job — helping the British plan their holidays in the United States — though I had intended to stay one year. I had begun countless stories and novels but there was something “off” about all of them. Either they had the ring of self‑consciousness about them, or they started too slowly and petered out before I ever got to the interesting material that had inspired me in the first place, or they were so close to the current problems of my own life that I couldn’t gain the proper distance and perspective.

Andy pointed out that “proper distance and perspective” may be what I’m lacking with The Good Daughters, and what’s causing me to struggle so much with the revision. [sigh] I think he’s probably right. So I’m going back to the drawing board, which is somewhat disheartening because I’ve invested so much time, effort, and heart into what I’ve already written, but also somewhat exciting, because I know I can do better.

.

These last two are not writing-related, but I liked them.

“The best means of learning to know oneself is seeking to understand others.”

“Yes, that’s it,” he said, in his cool, professional voice. But I saw the blood come into his face; the blush of exultation; he knew he had freed me. Even if it meant freeing me from him.

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3 Comments

  1. Angie

    I agree with Andy with Good Daughters. It might not be a bad idea to set aside and work on your other novel and then revisit it later for revisions (and with second opinions?).

    We write what we know because we understand the thoughts and emotions that occur. But I think a lot of fiction that sells well is because people have something to identify with, regardless if it happened to the writer or not.

    Also, I dl the article to read later in my break time.

  2. But I think a lot of fiction that sells well is because people have something to identify with, regardless if it happened to the writer or not.

    That’s a really good point!

  3. they started too slowly and petered out before I ever got to the interesting material that had inspired me in the first place,

    I do this ALL the time. I got your email and will try to read your thing tonight or tomorrow :)

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