Our Writerly Roundup blog series features a curated collection of articles on the craft of writing and the creative life that we don't want you to miss.
Is the Writer's Only Responsibility to His Art?, Zoe Heller and Francine Prose, NY Times
In this recent Bookends, Zoe Heller and Francine Pose explore whether it is acceptable to produce art at all costs—regardless of the toll it may take on others. Do artists have the freedom to create in a vacuum or should they feel some larger moral, interpersonal, or political obligation by virtue of their status as writer? In short, does artistry excuse assholery?
We may flinch at this sort of thing, but we remain, for the most part, curiously reluctant to reject Faulkner's credo of artistic ruthlessness altogether. The belief that artists are entitled to be morally careless — that great art excuses everything — has proved to be one of the more tenacious parts of our Romantic inheritance.
People imagine that writers do more than make up stories and put words on a page. They think that writers know something. And if you have a (let's say) healthy ego, not uncommon among writers, the fact that your opinion is being asked may lead you to feel that you have a responsibility to be an unacknowledged (or acknowledged) legislator of the world.
Do I Own My Story? But What If It's Also Your Story, and You Don't Want Me To Tell It?, Laurie Hertzel (@StribBooks), Brevity
In a similar vein, this craft piece tackles the perennial dilemma of how to write your story if, as is often the case, it features others. Hertzel sets forth a thoughtful breakdown of the writer's options—from "just go for it" to suggesting name changes or blurring identifying characteristics to making peace with the potential fallout. While this issue is not novel, I particularly appreciated Hertzel's succinct yet thorough approach as well as where she ends up: "I will tell the truth, be bold, and whenever possible, be kind."
You can pair the above with this excellent roundup of advice on memoir from Meghan Daum, Darin Strauss, Ta-Nehisi Coates, among others.
On Mentors, Dani Shapiro (@danijshapiro), www.danishapiro.com
Dani Shapiro's blog posts never disappoint, but this one seems to have particular resonance. In it, Shapiro reflects on the value of writing mentors—those who cheerlead or challenge or champion, those who push us to work harder, or open doors to opportunity and usher us in—"those who are able to remind us to become who we are."
But in recent years I've been accompanied on the journey by a few writers and artists I have never personally known. I keep their books close to me. I carefully write passages from their work into my commonplace books, committing their thoughts to memory, and when I do this, I feel almost as if our souls might be touching through time.
It is a poignant homage to all those who leave their mark on the raw clay of our creative selves.
How I Gave Up on the Great American Novel and Got a Book Deal, Ed Tarkington (@EdTarkington), Literary Hub
In this tender musing on his literary trajectory, Tarkington eloquently traces his path from young writer juggling teaching jobs and unfinished novels, desperately trying to get a break, to the writer he grew to become—who ultimately scored a book deal.
Many of my sins in both life and prose have sprung from an urge to imitate the romantic, macho-rebel type of writer I admired but to whom I didn't bear much real resemblance: guys like Kerouac and Cassady, Ken Kesey and Barry Hannah. I tried to behave the way I imagined they would behave, write the way they wrote . . .
As he neared 40, however, he discovered how he'd been going wrong:
At 35, I couldn't hold up the illusion anymore. I was no outlaw. I was a middle-class husband, a teacher, a coach, and a father of young girls. I'd become a much different kind of man than the one I'd set out to be.
Instead, he turned inward, and wrote from a place that was true to himself:
I abandoned the stoic antiheroes in the mountains and turned back to what really interests me, what I worry about, what obsesses me: memory and longing, family and community, love and betrayal, reconciliation and redemption.
. . .
I remembered why I started writing—not for Cormac McCarthy or Denis Johnson or Robert Stone, but for the boy still inside me, a boy full of hope and fear and love and hunger, who stayed up late into the night reading the books that made him dare to dream.
It is a piece worth reading in its entirety, to ride the wave of this artist's beautifully rendered, and relatable, troughs and triumphs.
To What Do We Owe This Pleasure: On the Value of Not Writing, Ada Limon (@adalimon), www.richard-blanco.com
I'll leave you with this lyrical, meandering post by Ada Limon on the value of not writing. Don't keep your head down and your pen poised with such dogged determination that you let everything else pass you by. Living, daydreaming, even laundry—this is the stuff of life. Don't miss it.
I suddenly feel like there should be a permission slip for writers. Something you can sign for someone that says, "You don’t always have to write. You have permission to just be in the world and grieve and laugh and live and do your damn laundry. Writing comes when it comes, and it's not the most important thing. You and all the little nuisances and nuances of life are what matter most. Don't miss this gorgeous mess by always trying to make sense of it all."
Have you read a compelling article about craft or the creative life that you think should appear in the next Writerly Roundup? Please send links to lmblogcontact (at) literarymama (dot) com—we'd love to hear your input!