25 Nov 2011

Good readers can handle the truth

3 Comments New and Exciting, Personal Thoughts

Writing is hard.

Anyone who has struggled to compose a basic letter, a clear email, a good essay, or even a simple recipe knows the frustration that arises when the thoughts don’t match the words. These tasks can be grueling and unrewarding, and sometimes words float around in your head all day until you come close to what you mean. But, for those who love to write and have dedicated themselves to the practice, putting it together is joyful, exhilarating, and freeing.

Just last week, a group of book lovers listened as Nicole Krauss spoke of her passion for writing at the Miami International Book Fair. Interestingly, she said that she doesn’t write to entertain and that she strives for her novels to be authentic, alive and necessary. What resonated the most for serious readers is that she knows her audience seeks the truth–and that they can handle it.

Like Krauss, authors are often asked about the writing process. Some fascinating responses include:

  • When  I write, I feel like an armless legless man with a crayon in his mouth—Kurt Vonnegut
  • You should never write out of vengeance—Ethan Canin
  • A writer is someone on whom nothing is lost—Henry James
  • I write because I want to—John Ashberry
  • I write because I’m good at it—Flannery O’Connor
  • Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way—E.L. Doctorow
  • Good writing is about telling the truth–Anne Lamott

If you are a good reader who is curious about writers and their craft, a few books that you should take a look at are:

  • The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
  • On Writing: Memoirs of the Craft by Stephen King (this book has an excellent reading list at the end)
  • Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott shares a story in her book that helps her with the writing process. She recalls a time when her ten-year-old brother was immobilized by a report he had to write about birds. He was surrounded by binder paper, pencils, and unopened books, and in tears because of the huge task ahead. Her father, detecting his son’s agitation, sat down beside him and said,  “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

How conscious are you of the quality of writing when you read a good book? Do you like the ‘truth’ in your fiction as Krauss and Lamott suggest? Let us hear from you.

written by
Lisa Forman Rosen is an avid reader and facilitator of book clubs in Miami, Florida. She has worked at the University of Miami since 1986, first in the Department of English Composition as a lecturer and now at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine as a writer. Lisa created this site to share her love of literature with others and expand the conversation into the virtual world.

3 Comments for“Good readers can handle the truth”

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  2. Brian Lemmerman says:

    My parents and I had a discussion last night about the possibility that I could begin writing and illustrating books. I’m already a well-trained illustrator, but since writing an area in which I have little experience, I got caught up in all the training I would need to undergo to be successful in that field. This post had me realize that, like a drawing, a good book can only be planned out to a certain extent. Most of the magic happens spontaneously along the way. Thanks for helping me get out of my head.