The things that unite us

Welcoming the reader in

Quilt by Karen Meisner

It's Day 2 of my cold, and though it's only a cold (not the medical condition I often wrestle with, don't worry), it's got me too fuzzy-headed to read, or write, or do much of anything at all that requires linear thought. So since I can't manage much of a post today, I'd like to give you a reading recommendation instead: "What Writers Really Do When They Write," by George Saunders, whose generosity of spirit never fails to warm my heart.

"We often think," says Saunders, "that the empathetic function in fiction is accomplished via the writer’s relation to his characters, but it’s also accomplished via the writer’s relation to his reader. You make a rarefied place (rarefied in language, in form; perfected in many inarticulable beauties -- the way two scenes abut; a certain formal device that self-escalates; the perfect place at which a chapter cuts off); and then welcome the reader in. She can’t believe that you believe in her that much; that you are so confident that the subtle nuances of the place will speak to her; she is flattered. And they do speak to her. This mode of revision, then, is ultimately about imagining that your reader is as humane, bright, witty, experienced and well intentioned as you, and that, to communicate intimately with her, you have to maintain the state, through revision, of generously imagining her. You revise your reader up, in your imagination, with every pass. You keep saying to yourself: 'No, she’s smarter than that. Don’t dishonour her with that lazy prose or that easy notion.'

"And in revising your reader up, you revise yourself up too."

At the window

If you'd like a little further reading this morning, here's Maria Bustillos' take on what it's like to study literature and writing under Saunders: "The Chekhov-Saunders Humanity Kit."


Sacred Idleness - George MacDonald

Stopped, Oh no.
Large nothingness. whines,
Cannot do: heft groceries, vacuum,
But now can lift my black cane
up and down, up and down,
this way & that, puzzled cat,
which to my surprise.....

No paon. How did this
young tall man learn this
and give it hand to hand
so it is almost magic.

A long, long, long not much fun.
Into the door of "Why?"
Busy, busy, busy, then, not.
It whispers to me each day.
It was meant to slow me down.

Down where? Why? Sacred Idleness.
I willow my head and close my eyes.

It was this time of just being me,
The word-hoard silent but the
faint murmer of the mystery.....

In a peculiar way, but yes, it is
Gift on the path, stumble,
reach down and bring it to be.

"I willow my head....." It was supposed to be another word, but thought, and it will stay.

Phyllis, I love 'I willow my head', I've no idea what it means but its music is perfect.

As a sufferer of a chronic malady, a cane hobbled elder,
I salute you and all who suffer either physically or in
the spirit, Writers have the advantage of word blessing.

"The word-hoard silent but the
faint murmer of the mystery....."

Oh when that word hoard goes silent, I worry. But you have cheered me, Phyllis.


I hope you feel better soon. That is some wonderful writing advice. Will bookmark.

Oh Dear Phyllis,
"In a peculiar way ..." makes it yours alone. I See you clearly, willowed ... the unexpected way.
Thank you.

The first draft is for the writer; the subsequent revisions (and oh so many) are for, in part the readers. I like this. But maybe they are also for the story itself - to do it justice, to give it its best shot at making an impact, even if it's only for one person. Lots to think about here, even though I am fuzzy-headed myself. Thank you.
And "sacred idleness" -- the ultimate permission to give yourself a break. I really like this!

Thank you Mokihana, Stuart,Michelle, Jane. Suzy, and Lori. Wow. I feel sometimes I am writing poems or they are writing me.
I am so happy you liked this one.

Good to see you have a good friend to take care of you. Hope the cold drains away soon!

Great writing by Saunders (and by you). I just completed Lincoln in the Bardo and am not even certain why it left me in tears...and don't need to be.

The comments to this entry are closed.