Thursday, September 11, 2008

Getting Unreasonable with 'em

I was rooting around this morning for pithy online resources for my Creative Writing students. This is the kind of activity which engenders far more ambivalence in me than you might expect. I'm not down with pithy advice to writers. I'm firmly of a mind that writing is more or less like teaching a rider to become the horse. You have to learn to to let the animal take the reins. But that's much too frightening a reality to teach new writers, and so I spent the morning looking for comforting baby steps that'll keep them writing long enough to find out the dirty bits themselves. And I stumbled upon this in an article entitled Five Tips to Avoiding Total Disaster as a Novelist:

Tip #5. Ignore all reasonable sounding advice like “write about what you know,” “read as much as you can,” or “try to write every day.” If you need to hear this advice you are in the wrong game. But more importantly, reasonableness won’t get the job done. One day in an ice-stricken back alley in Boston I saw a fat little Irishman beat the daylights out of four larger, stronger assailants. When it was over, and it was over astonishingly quickly, he brushed himself off and said simply, “I had to get unreasonable with ‘em.” Unless you are willing to face the unreasonable in yourself -- unless you are willing to entertain some strange notions (and deal with them when they stick around) -- unless you are willing to get lost, confused and even terrified -- then what you’re doing won’t have any meaning. The famous device of conflict upon which all stories are supposed to hinge starts within the writer. You are all the characters in your dreams and so too with a novel. You can’t put your creations into jeopardy or into embarrassing or miraculous situations without going there yourself, and that is not a sensible ambition for a grown person to have. As a writer who has made more mistakes than most, my goal above all else is to be very, very unreasonable.

I'm less than convinced about some of his other tips. As he says, spending years collecting odd material and playing with weird writing styles is absolutely a waste of time. He's entirely correct. I just wish it wasn't entirely necessary to the development of a writing style. I nevertheless hold author Kris Saknussemm in a high regard. You can find out more about his novel Zanesville here.

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