Jun 5, 2007

If all goes according to plan I'll be helping my good pal Daniel teach a class in narrative illustration at MICA this fall. In coming up with a potential reading list I was careful to include Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. I'm looking forward to seeing how the students deal with Carver's approach of leaving meaning in the margins. Will they choose to illustrate what is said, or the infinitely more important world of what isn't said? It should be fun.

As I got to thinking about Carver, I got to poking around the Internet looking for more from and about him. I turned up an amazing find in this 1981 essay on the craft and process of writing. A sample:
In an essay called, simply enough, ''Writing Short Stories,'' Flannery O'Connor talks about writing as an act of discovery. O'Connor says she most often did not know where she was going when she sat down to work on a short story. She says she doubts that many writers know where they are going when they begin something. She uses ''Good Country People'' as an example of how she put together a short story whose ending she could not even guess at until she was nearly there:

''When I started writing that story, I didn't know there was going to be a Ph.D. with a wooden leg in it. I merely found myself one morning writing a description of two women I knew something about, and before I realized it, I had equipped one of them with a daughter with a wooden leg. I brought in the Bible salesman, but I had no idea what I was going to do with him. I didn't know he was going to steal that wooden leg until ten or twelve lines before he did it, but when I found out that this was what was going to happen, I realized it was inevitable.''

When I read this some years ago it came as a shock that she, or anyone for that matter, wrote stories in this fashion. I thought this was my uncomfortable secret, and I was just a little uneasy with it. For sure I thought this way of working on a short story somehow revealed my own shortcomings. I remember being tremendously heartened by reading what she had to say on the subject.
A rather large passage to excerpt, I know, but worth it all the way. And, in fact, you'd be foolish to avoid reading the whole thing, whether or not you pursue writing in some fashion.

Also, if you buy that Carver book or anything else from Amazon using that link it'll make me some scratch.

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