We’ve read through all of the fiction writers’ pieces and handed back critiques, treating each work and editorial process seriously and concentrating like whoa on giving good specific feedback. After five days I feel raw and exhausted, but good. It’s like whittling deadwood, sloughing off the bits I don’t need (I’m looking at you, insecurity and bad literary habits). Now I can focus my attention on word choice, craft, storytelling, and because Chip has hammered it into me, description. It may very well be that every story I write for the next few years, I will write for his eye and ear and sense of prose.
Samuel Delany refers a lot to Flaubert, and Balzac, and Walter Pater. He considers his words, and speaks in the most delightful cyclical cadence that keeps me fascinated with whatever next word is going to come out of his mouth. I’ve been cobbling a list of his reading recommendations, which may only make sense in context of giving feedback to us, and which is based in part on the kinds of stories we’ve been writing, but which is still a great stand-alone list. Here are some of his reference points:
- Marius the Epicurean, and Imaginary Portraits, and The Child in the House, by Walter Pater
- The Geography of the Imagination, by Guy Davenport
- Enemies of Promise, by Cyril Connolly (a book on what makes writing lasting or not)
- Aspects of the Novel, by E.M. Foster
- Forgetting Elena, by Edmund White
- Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf
- Sentimental Education, by Gustave Flaubert
- The Complete Short Stories of Theodore Sturgeon, ed. by Paul Williams
- The Line of Beauty, by Alan Hollinghurst
- The Way of the Flesh, by Samuel Butler
It’s a lot to read, but then again, I have some time to read them.
I sat at the square table on Wednesday morning and listened to the critique of my ensemble novel from Chip and the eleven fiction fellows, and was thrilled to get such helpful feedback, especially the difference in perspective. One character that I thought was well written struck them as less interesting; their problems posed with less urgency, and for me, this had been a huge blind spot. How nice to get their sounding board responses! I pored through the dozen copies of line notes, margin notes, and summaries, and opened up my laptop. Reread my prose. Highlighted sections that needed care and feeding. French pressed myself a cup of coffee, and scratched at the copy of my manuscript, the one that already stands a couple of inches high. I scrolled down to the bottom of the manuscript and started typing.
When I looked up I had 5,000 new words. Words I didn’t have last week, or last month. I’ve been quiet about this writer’s block, but it is true that when I got here, I’d only been adding one hundred or so words to the story at at time. Now I feel that the story is more open, ready for whatever I can drop into it, and revisions will happen in time. It’s a good thing, a very good thing. I’m coming away from this workshop experience renewed about this project (as in, this book has to get written, and has to get published), and confirmation to some degree that after all of my years writing, reading, worrying about writing, keeping up with publishing, working on myself as a person, they all are beginning to bear beautiful fruit. I couldn’t be more pleased.
And now I have to get down to work.