193 Comments
Feb 22·edited Feb 24

I have another, slightly piqued comment in response to the questioner… .

You talk about Hallmark TV, Hollywood writing and you dismiss it all.

I used to do this, I used to want to be Faulkner (now I want to be Steinbeck… ). I dismissed romantic comedies and superheroes and tv as all shite.

But then i met people who love those genres. Genuinely love it, they sweat blood trying their absolute hardest to write the best Dan Brown novel they can. And the truth is, it’s not easy to do that either. It is not easy to write a Marvel film, or a sexy page turner or a superficially light but entertainingly forgettable 2 hour film or a 10 season family comedy.

It’s basically not easy to write full stop.

I think having respect for all writers, for all those people who actually finish something and then have the balls to get it published, made or seen… helps your own endeavours. Maybe they deserve a little more of your admiration, not because you like their style, it’s not your bag- it is a lot of people’s bags- but you can still learn from them. They do what they love and I take my hat off to them.

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There is really almost nothing to add to what George has so generously written here today. What a beautiful answer to an honest, searching question. THAT BEING SAID, being me, I do have one tiny thing I feel I can add in hopes of being helpful. Questioner, you write: "My work isn’t yet good enough for me, though." And I want to say, yes. Same here, all of the time. "My taste doesn’t translate into prose." Right--I feel the same way, too. "How do I leave the false but comfortable behind?" All i can say--because I can relate to you, I know what it's like to feel "my work isn't good enough for me," etc.--is that a writer has to just keep writing. For some of us, it takes years and years and years to finally write something where we can say Yes, I did it. Keep going, that's what I want to tell you. Struggle on! You WILL get there. I know you will--your letter alone attests to your ability to string words together, to express yourself on the page. And you want it so badly--more than most people, I think. The only way to get there is through--words and more words, over and over again. It's frustrating and demanding and often a person wants to give up. But I have faith your voice willl appear to you and you will soon enough know how to tell the stories ONLY YOU CAN TELL. Thank you for your question, which I think will make a lot of people feel less alone. And George, thank you for your lovely reply.

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Sheesh. I needed to read this question today. We had the opposite upbringing, questioner. My father was sort of a grifter, we moved over a dozen times before I entered high school, and multiple times after. My parents lacked "executive function" as I understand now, both suffered from untreated mental illness. As a family, we were evicted, or sometimes would slip out of an area after a long while of not paying rent and bills, we ran out of food for periods of time, money to go to the laundry, my school clothes were ill-fitting and dirty, I was not taken to a doctor or a dentist until age 14. I'm hoping now as an adult that I had all my vaccines.

I changed schools often. Some kids were not allowed to play at with me as I looked rough and had a foul mouth. My parents didn't care about school, they felt it was sucking the creativity out of kids, they never asked if i did homework, didn't care about good grades. My father was shocked that I wanted to go to college, tried to talk me out of it. He believed that artists should just "spring forth" from the genius within or something magical like that. I did make it to a state college with the help of a friend from a upper middle class family, also pell grants and cal grants, and I worked several jobs.

None of those experiences made me a better writer–– I read your struggles and they are also mine, except that when you have more than one job you have little time for leisure/reading, so you are way ahead of me in that regard, and probably had a much better formal education. This was my favorite question and answer, it is illuminating to me on such a profound level. We all struggle. We all have regrets and things that have held us back. Writing is hard, and sometimes I feel that I don't belong here in Story Club with my sketchy education. The thing is, I realize that many other people also feel that way, as they've alluded to that in the comments this whole time.

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I like George's contrasting of "sentimental" and "emotion-rich."

There's also a difference between "sentimental" and "sincere." David Foster Wallace talked a lot about how modern culture tends to promote detached cynicism as cool and hip. Sincerity is often seen as uncool, but why? There should be room in literature for the unironic expression of sincere feeling. So if you're using George's methods to steer away from sentimentality, you may find a rich vein of sincerity nearby.

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My god this was beautiful. Such generosity of spirit. In the question and the answer. Amen and amen.

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I often think about Sally Rooney's novel Normal People - if you look at the bare plot, it's 'Popular high school jock dates unattractive nerd in secret, but when they move on to university, unattractive nerd transforms (cue makeover montage) into beautiful young woman and popular jock struggles to make friends, will they won't they end up together.' It's a complete Disney Teen movie. If I attempted to write that I'd be cringing so hard it would never get written. BUT Sally Rooney, whom as far as I know came from a very privileged background, well she nailed it. Her prose was crystal clear, her characters were completely believable, I was turning pages to find out if they stay together in the end. I think it was elevated from Disney Teen plot to Literature with a capital L, as George says, line by line and by being truthful. Sally must have opened her eyes and ears when she was in university and taken it all in, and when she wrote it all down, it was fiction, but it was deeply and recognisably True.

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I soaked this in. Thank you for your wisdom, George, which I will return to again and again.

"deletion, compression, imagination"

"It all matters...every little thing"

"The world is always vaster than we can imagine."

"the restlessness of the mind"

"what did I want and how did I feel?"

I am so grateful for your continued work to communicate with strangers...for the dialogue you engage in. I learn from what you say in conversation with others, and I draw upon what is said while I teach and write.

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As I like to remind my students when they struggle with this question: Alice Munro (I'm Canadian) wrote storms about living in boring small town Ontario.

Won the Nobel Prize.

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I love the depth and breadth of the questioning and the answering. It occurs to me as a sort of compression of an answer: look within, look without, keep alternating, write about what your characters are up to when they are not in your story, look within, look without, write out of love instead of hope, see what happens. (I vow to take this advice myself!)

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''Every person matters; every movement, every shaft of light; every strange inclination, every twinge in the calf; every person we might normally overlook, everything that we normally consider “unliterary.”

It all matters.

Wouldn’t it be amazing, to really feel that way?’’

Thanks George I think I understand more about my issue about “What is Good Enough”. But not everything there is always more to learn. The writer opens his soul so I send him some hugs and say stay true to yourself your better than good enough.

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I really appreciate that you reframe this writer's angst and invite him to look at it on the level of the line when you write, "Honestly: all big conceptual questions “reduce to” the deletion or compression or reimagination of specific lines in the work at-hand." It's so easy for writers to tip ourselves into complete despair by making things too big--wrong childhood! Wrong perspective! Too sentimental, too bourgeois, too ignorant! or whatever we are tormenting ourselves with in the moment--but often, as you say, the cure is just to write through it and then revise through it, one sentence at a time. Thank you.

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This is what Story Club has given me over the past year or so. This process, and the sense that it lies in the lines. Thank you again, George. I got the first inkling on this from Swim, when you explained so wonderfully how to read. And each encounter in Story Club, you've made it clearer and clearer and more available.

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There is so much here to appreciate but I just wanted to celebrate the mention of Dorothy Allison. Bastard Out of Carolina is a hell of a book.

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founding

It's a busy week for me so it took me a day or two respond to this awesome Q&A office hours. I am so aware of two things: 1) selfishly - the fact that in 24 hours or less, the comments have filled to the point that my 'brilliant' additions will be lost at sea, below waves of other brilliant comments. So be it. A nice dose of humility. 2) This club is: OMG. George is: OMG. The questioner is: OMG. The comments are: OMG. Like how can this level of insight, vulnerability and compassion thrive like this? It's a bit of a miracle. I am grateful, so grateful for Story Club, aka Therapy Club, beyond measure.

From George's answer: "Maybe, being an artist isn’t about transforming ourselves into some totally new and foreign being, but finding out what sort of being we are, and being more of that."

Amen to that! I hope some of you find this and nod your heads with joy and gratitude like I am now....

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Both the question, and the answer are just beautiful. As I was reading the question I couldn't help seeing (feeling) poetry in it :) We tend to be so hard on ourselves, and complicate things. And when we read a perfectly-put together art and we assume that we are reading the (god-like/genius) writer's first draft! We don't see the background struggle, the hard work, and the writer's self-doubt. But even the best of writers go through moments/ periods of doubt. This is what I try to remind myself when I go through my moments of self-loathing. Playwright David Hare said that he had such a boring childhood that he had no choice but to invent drama. My childhood was so crazy that writing about it helped me process it (through some dark humour). There is no perfect background, or the right way to go about writing. Just writing. I loved what George said: "It all matters." And there is so much beauty, magic and truth in the "unliterary"! We only need to open our eyes and ears (and have a notebook and pen nearby)...

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These are matters I think a lot of writers wrestle with. Like the questioner, I've had to come to terms with the fact that my writing is nothing like the writers I admire. They are brilliant and I am mediocre! I think one of the biggest breakthroughs I had on this front was self-acceptance. Previously, I think my efforts to write like a modernist or an impressionist or in a high-literary tone was me expressing a form of self-loathing. My real self wasn't good enough and to gain respect or admiration I had to try to be Virginia Woolf or something. As you can imagine, those efforts were dreadful. It's difficult, but I think part of the writing process involves learning to ignore any imagined reader looking over your shoulder, to ignore your desire for recognition and admiration and teaching yourself to care only about the story and pleasing yourself. This sounds counterintuitive but somehow this has helped me get past the super critic in my head. I write to please myself, first. In fact, sometimes I indulge in my basest writerly desires and then something weird and interesting emerges and, what's more, it is a true expression of who I am and the stories I like to tell.

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