Writing about Writing

As some of you know, I’ve been reading a series of memoirs. Many of them start well. Then they bog down in the middle, have weak connections, or blather on much longer than they have any right to do. They refer to fascinating plot details that they don’t explain and, in general, let me down.

Two writers of the memoirs I’ve read recently have cavalierly referred to the books they’ve written without telling us a damn thing about them. I discourage the students I work with to write about writing. No one cares but other writers. I find superficial writing about writing boring as fuck. It’s like telling someone that you heard a really funny story the other day, and then not telling that story.

However, my memoir-enjoying dry spell has ended. I can name names and quote quotes. The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit is the kind of memoir I want to write. It is smart without being irritating. And Solnit does not waste time. She builds story upon story like a poet. It is no coincidence, I am sure, that Nick Flynn blurbed her book.

I love how Solnit writes about writing:

“Writing is saying to no one and to everyone the things it is not possible to say to someone….Matters that are so subtle, so personal, so obscure, that I ordinarily can’t imagine saying them to the people to whom I’m closest. Every once in a while I try to say them aloud and find that what turns to mush in my mouth or falls short of their ears can be written down for total strangers. Said to total strangers in the silence of writing that is recuperated and heard in the solitude of reading. Is it the shared solitude of writing, is it that separately we all reside in a place deeper than society, even the society of two? Is it that the tongue fails where the fingers succeed, in telling truths so lengthy and nuanced that they are almost impossible aloud?” (p. 64)

Who writes about the way you write?

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5 responses to “Writing about Writing

  1. I don’t know who writes about the way I write, but I do know that I recently read Stephen King’s On Writing again, and in the last two weeks I have heard Donna Tartt and Nicholas Baker interviewed. What they all had in common is that you have to write with the door shut. Completely. No one needs to be in the space, it is you and the ideas, you and the page. Not until you’re done do you let it loose upon the world. Having worked sharing things, and then not sharing things, I think they definitely made a valid point for me. Not sharing works infinitely better, otherwise you’re editing for others before you’re even started.

    • I hear you. I’ve heard both fiction and nonfiction writers talk about the importance if keeping it all close to the vest as long as possible. I agree completely. Even my husband hasn’t seen my memoir, 5 years into it.

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