I feel "slightly beyond myself" every time I put finger to keyboard because I'm not a particularly talented writer.

I'm always looking for validation that my writing will connect to anyone, at all, let alone sophisticated readers. However, I've also been practicing for awhile now, and I feel like there must come a time when a writer should trust herself.

I believe there are two parts to art. There's the expression, but there's also the reception. If there's no reception then it's an incomplete piece. For me, there's always a push and pull between wanting to make something true and honest, but also wanting it to land with an audience.

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I love this. It feels like a kind approach to all works of art, not just written ones. I used to despise the band Rush. Every single aesthetic decision they committed to their recordings chafed against my sensibilities. Their music hurt me like an itchy sweater. But my reaction was all out of scale. So I watched a documentary about them, and carefully listened to some of the records on headphones. And now—I get it. I get what they meant to do. They did it brilliantly. Do I like the music of Rush? No, I do not. But I now I dislike it with love in my heart, and I crank it up when it comes on the car stereo.

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I relate to this in a big way:

> To get a piece of writing to live, you have to be in relation to it in a way that leaves it slightly beyond you. You’re flailing, you’re trying everything, you’re grasping at straws, you’re following a trail, you’re achieving unintended results, sometimes you’re going beyond the limit of your talent, other times you’re avoiding things that you know you can’t do well, and so on.  You are allowing to the table certain parts of yourself that, in real life, you might try to hide or conceal; you are recreating parts of yourself that you’ve since grown out of or discarded: you literally don’t know what it is you’re trying to do.

One of the main things I’ve learned since I started taking fiction writing seriously is that you don’t really seem to have full control of the work. You’re doing your best to apprehend it and the skill is really that apprehension, even more skillful if you can apprehend it delicately.

But this is a big part of the fun, too, once you start taking writing seriously. Like you said, it’s not like you’re trying to communicate something you already know, it’s much more like you’re trying to discover something. It can be very exciting, when you’ve spent hundreds of hours on something, and you find something new, as if it was there all along.

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Noone will read this because it's so far down but I'm bouncing between vigorous agreement with this and then also wondering how this relates to something written in the Freakification incident (can we call it an incident): "Many writers I know - most, actually - are thoughtful and considerate and even deferential to the views and wishes of other people. All good traits, in a human being. But in this one zone of our lives (the artistic zone) we’re allowed to be wildly and indefensibly opinionated and self-indulgent (which is also called “having a style.”)Sometimes finding our style involves honoring the little aversions we feel even if (especially if) we can’t rationalize or explain these."

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I'm fortunate that humility comes to me so easily. (I just wish it hadn't required such a steady stream of humiliations to achieve.) Whenever I encounter the off-putting or the incomprehensible, I start with the assumption that I'm missing something. If I were a detective, I would always be a Person Of Interest.

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On Reading

I had the honor to study privately for a couple of years with this marvelous cranky poet named Larry Fagin. He taught me so many things. One I’ve already mentioned he said about a memoir piece of mine, “I don’t care about the story. I care about the language.” And he set me to reading writers I’d never heard of like Jane Bowles. I didn’t like “Stick of Green Candy” the first time I read it and told Larry so. He said in his blunt manner, “There’s nothing wrong with the story. It’s you.” I told this to another writer buddy who was offended and asked me how I let him say this to me. I went back and reread the story realizing what I was objecting to about was personal. Larry pushed me to see beyond my immediate rejection. Bowles’s stories are strange nether worlds filled with magic because of her perceptions. You/I/we have to bend a bit to enter her odd world.

Like yours, too. I reread “Mom of Bold Action” again today & I see it so differently than when I first read it. I didn’t understand the pov first read. I wanted it to fit into my idea of story, which it doesn’t. SC has helped me do what my writer/psychologist friend Barry Friesen calls “readjusting the frame.”

We have to bend into the unfamiliar & give it a chance. Esp those of us who dare to write. Gotta read. And read stuff we don’t understand or even like. If we want to grow.

“…but there are elements in our most powerful work that require us to approach the writing with a kind of disciplined abandon, that makes the result comes out a little crazily – misshapen, partial, wild, not in a linear relation to reality; out of sync, somehow, with our “real” selves; imperfect, in other words.”

Yes! TY for this. I always get a gift from your posts. This quote is one. It gives me permission to go back and put back in something I just cut from a story. I love the section & it makes the story imperfectly perfect.

I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes by one of my favorite bad boys (he makes Gurov look like bread pudding) of literature the Viscount de Valmont in Liaisons Dangereuse: “It’s beyond my control.”

Indeed it is Monsieur.

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Many of the best books I have encountered in a lifetime of reading I did not make it through on the first attempt. Ulysses, Gravity’s Rainbow, Moby Dick. Fell away, didn’t connect, it was just too damn hard. Then at some point I went back to them and took another whack at it. And in some cases, yet another whack. In most cases, I finished the books eventually, and they were great, and I would have really missed something if I had not persevered.

I guess it’s true of the arts in general; we can run across a painting or hear a song, and not react to it at all, or else decide not to like it, until repeated viewings/listenings, undertaken because other people whose opinions we respect like the piece in question. And often, though not always, we come around. We catch what we had been missing. We find the rhythm that will take us through the work. The first time I heard what would become one of my favorite song recordings of all time, The Band’s album, Music From Big Pink, I was left more or less completely unmoved. I kept at it, though, because so many musicians I respected were talking about how good it was. And the result has been, when it comes to art works, that I’m less likely to take my first impression as the last word.

You can say I don’t trust my feelings and judgements, or you could say that I have learned to bring some objectivity to the process of evaluation. Not every piece of writing will speak to us. And yet, as our Story Leader puts it, works of art “may keep unfolding for years to come, regardless of that first readerly reaction.” That is what I finally learned.

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One afternoon, I opened Lincoln In the Bardo and started in at my usual breakneck speed. I somehow had the idea it was about vampires. (sorry) After a few pages, I looked up wide-eyed and said to myself, What is this? And put the book down. After the Christmas rush and spending a full day lounging, I picked up the book again and gave it the slow, concentrated attention it deserved. What a gem! I loved it! Sometimes coming in a with a "proper" mindset makes all the difference in our experience of a book.-

Years ago, for about six months after my father died, I could only read the puffiest of puff pieces. I now have a better understanding of and appreciation for puff pieces. Again, it was everything about my mindset at the time. Sometimes we aren't ready for the message (or any message). A book to me is very much about the shared experienced between the writer and the reader.

As a struggling new writer, I really appreciate the idea of letting go of the story. Flailing, trying everything, grasping at straws, etc, is maybe more a part of the process than I realized. Not just me as a new writer wallowing in the mud and getting nothing but dirty. That maybe one day I will emerge triumphant and holding a small mud pie!

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Only today I’ve been trying to help my autistic son understand that there are no accidents in the story he has to study for school. When the car crashes into a lorry of pigs on the motorway the author made a decision that that car would not crash into a concrete lorry. He said it wouldn’t have occurred to him to think about the author deciding that fact or it might add a layer of meaning somehow.

I love how GS articulates the effort and intention of an author. It doesn’t come naturally to every reader to pick that up. I think because there’s a misconception that stories are written easily from start to finish by gifted individuals. The work is a secret only known to those who try writing themselves.

Listening to audio books and the New Yorker Fiction podcast was how I found GS stories, and as I wouldn’t call myself a sophisticated reader, but a hard working reader, I believe this ‘taught’ me how to appreciate GS’s work. So when I came to the page, I knew not to be ‘frightened’ of the style.

I very much sign up to the idea that we develop as readers, books find us when we are ready for them, and readers who have an openness will find themselves rewarded if they’re given the guidance they seek.

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Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, I think there’s a ton of wisdom in saying, like, there are some works that we need to rise up to meet, and that there’s an education to be had in, as readers, trying to parse through our reactions, which, as a former teacher once said, often has something to do with our moral paradigm of the world, and this being challenged, rather than by the validity and nature of the work itself. Like, I sometimes want to scream when I read those one or two star Goodreads reviews (often of books I love) that are basically just like “I didn’t like the characters” or “these characters annoyed me.”

But, I’m also deeply suspect and skeptical of writers desires and motivations sometimes in creating art. I’m just literally astounded sometimes by the amount of writers who are shitty, ungenerous, and mean spirited in real life. Like, I’ve just witnessed too many “writers” that are really using their craft to assuage or amplify their own egos. Because they have “something important to say.” Which at times might be valid! But these writers don’t generally care about their audience. It’s usually about ME. And, some of these writers get published, which brings me to another concern, which is MARKETING and capitalism and how, at the end of the day, books are meant to sell. Like, I remember reading a short story in Best American short stories, that was published in The New Yorker, and being completely blown away by how bad it was. Like, I was angry. And you could make the case that this was just me as a reader, but I honestly believe that this particular author and story (which I’ll let remain unnamed) was published because it fit some particular trend or niche, or because this writer was a familiar brand, or icon, based on his or her previously published, commercially successful, first book.

And, idk, like, I thought I was crazy going through the best American short stories anthology, thinking like, is this stuff actually good, but then I started reading the pushcart small press anthology and I was blown away by the difference, how well crafted these stories were, how they made me feel. Beautiful, too.

Idk. Maybe this is just my experience working at a bookstore for four years, but I’m very jaded with the commercialism and marketing that tries to convince me that something that is published is good. (At the same time, I want to fully own that, perhaps, this could be my subjective tastes as a reader.) but couldn’t it also be the cause that bad art is created for selfish, monetary, and egotistical reasonings? And that what we call our “tastes” are actually correct, in resisting something which, through financial pressures, the world is trying to tell us is good?

Idk...sorry if this sounds rants and crabby. But I was so so so mad to see that story I mentioned earlier published in BASS and the New Yorker, and weirdly grateful when discovering the Pushcart anthology.

Am also perhaps jaded because I’ve seen and known too many writers that, like, just don’t care about reading, or their audience, or are drawn to writing not because of the work, or audience, but because of this romanticized mythology and cult status we’ve sometimes created (thanks, Beats!) to being a “writer.”

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I’ve just returned to a first draft of my own work, and am mystified by it. I’m trying to connect, trying to understand my own intention, working hard to figure out what on earth it’s meant to be about. So this post is well timed. I will try pretending the work is written by someone else and see if a generous enlightenment occurs.

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While I appreciate the sentiment and find it very generous, I believe this is a bold assumption:

"I assume that there is a collective wisdom at work in the realm of criticism..."

I think there are many truly excellent writers who are flogged (and/or completely ignored) by those "in the realm of criticism." And a lot who are exalted, shouldn't be, and don't/won't withstand the test of time (though that may reflect the fact that there's not necessarily "collective wisdom" at work over time either).

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Well, I've read all the comments here and am intimidated to write at all but I have to say that I have often returned to a book that, at first attempt, I just didn't like. Life experience brings so much to my appreciation of books I tried earlier in my life and just couldn't read, but now find fascinating.

Happens with music, too. It was always my inclination to focus on lyrics but one of my children showed me how to listen to the music and now I get to hear all my favorite songs like I'm hearing them for the first time. I love it!

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George's description of having "grown into" Dubliners resonated with me. When I first encountered Balzac, in my early twenties, I found his narratives compelling, but I thought his scheming characters were rather one-dimensional. Later I would discover that when property, money, and position are at stake, people often do behave exactly as Balzac depicted.

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I tend to trust literary experts, writers, well-known critics as I approach a work of literature, as well as my own sensibilities developed from long years of study. I will come back to a work if it doesn't immediately speak to me. But I try not to dismiss works without giving them a good chance. For a long time, I tried to read Arthur Koestler's "Darkness at Noon," a slim novel about Stalinist Russia. Surprisingly, I had never heard of it, and it ranked #8 on the Modern Library's greatest novels between 1900-1998. I was working at the Yale library at the time, just before Harold Bloom died. I've always been interested in western canon formation and had the good fortune to be assigned to the literature section of the library. I spent much time dipping into introductions written by Bloom. I ran into Bloom's edition of Koestler's book with a very short introduction. Most of the time, Bloom went on for pages explaining the significance of a classic. For Koestler's work, he wrote half a page. He said something along the lines of that Koestler's work belongs to his age and nothing more. It's a work of its time and can be safely ignored as not a work of note. That was the permission I needed to set the book aside instead of banging my head against something that I had trouble getting into. I don't think it was me. I've read other books of their time and been able to see value in them as they rose above their time. These comments today really do speak to me about how literature is the combined work of reader and writer trying working together to create art.

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I like this humble, open hearted way of approaching art and giving the creator (and presumably her process) the benefit of the doubt. I come at it with an understanding of wanting to bring a curious and respectful witness to the amazing work the creator has achieved. I don’t care if a critic has told me the value of something. I like “Big Mac” fiction as well as gourmet. The thing is though, a middle of the road response will often shut me down faster than a truly repulsed response. I can work through any response but my lukewarm response. I feel the weight of all the books I want to read and those not published yet and am too quick to slap a DNF on one that doesn’t pull me in or evoke an effect. Trying harder holds no power for me at 57. I won’t should on myself anymore.

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