Rod put up this post today about an interview with Tom Wolfe about writing; here are some of Rod's points:
1. People say to me a lot, “I have a book in me.” No, I want to say, you probably don’t. Most people lead perfectly ordinary lives. Or, to put a fine point on it, the lives most people can recall having led are perfectly ordinary, because most people are poor storytellers. I’ve been bored out of my skull listening to someone drone on about some adventure they had in an exotic locale, and I’ve been utterly captivated by someone talking about an ordinary event in a quotidian life. The difference is not the locale or the character of the event; the difference is in the discernment of the storyteller. You have to be reflective, and know how to tell the difference between meaningful details and mere clutter.
2. And you have to be able to get outside of yourself fully enough to grasp what it is about the story you have to tell that will interest other people who don’t know you. I’m thinking right now of a couple of people I’ve known in my life who could be counted on to deliver ordinary gossip as if they were returned from Troy to break the news of Achilles’ wrath and its effects. They were so caught up in the penny-ante drama of these narratives that they failed to see how little this stuff mattered to people who didn’t have a personal connection with the dramatis personae (or how little it mattered even to those who did).
Read the rest here.
Since I didn't entirely agree with Rod, I had a few things to say myself. I don't usually do this, but I'm going to copy my comment here (it hasn't shown up on the site yet, due to standard comment moderation). Here's what I said:
–I do think most people have a book in them. If they are decent writers there may even be a decent book in them. But there is nearly always a bad book in there first. Write it. Get it out of the way. If you survive the process, then you’ll know whether you want to keep at this long enough to write the good book, or if you’re done.
–Flannery O’Connor was asked if universities stifle writers. Her reply, that they don’t stifle nearly enough of them, is still the best way of looking at the situation.
–Despite all of the advice poured out on would-be writers from time immemorial, there is no one right way to proceed. Sure, you won’t be able to write books about foreign travel if you don’t do any. And it’s a mistake to write a book about a hideously dysfunctional ghetto family whose teenage son is a suicidal heroin addict who cuts himself as a cry for help when he’s not turning tricks to help feed his three much younger half-siblings amid the squalor of his mother’s apartment that she shares with her new jailbird boyfriend who is hiding from law enforcement because he killed his last girlfriend–if you, the writer, grew up in a nice middle-class community somewhere in the flatlands and know nothing about crimes or ghettos that you haven’t seen on TV (unless you are determined to write YA fiction, in which case, give your teen anti-hero a first-person narrative, a crossbow, and a secret portal to a world overrun with demons and you’re good). However, it’s important not to overlook that three terribly sheltered young ladies named Bronte wrote some of the most interesting books ever written in the English language, or that Shakespeare was somewhat slighted by the literati of his day for violating the Unities (and for being a commoner, unless you really think he was a front for an anonymous nobleman, which I have never believed for a minute myself).
–There is a LOT of room for dabblers and dreamers in writing. You do not have to be capable of Deathless Prose for the Ages to have the right to put words on paper (pixels on a screen, these days, but that doesn’t sound nearly so good). Some of the most rollicking good reads have been written by people who didn’t really have the writing chops to be published, and some of the dullest stuff is the stuff written by the Important Writers of a century or so ago.
–This has been said here before, but if you are a writer, then it is simply necessary to write. You can worry about whether anything you ever wrote was good later in life, if you have the time, and if you actually care about that sort of thing.
Writers, weigh in! Do you agree with Rod, with me, or with neither of us?