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on Writing 2

Joyce Carol Oates never gets writer’s block, which is why her little essay collection, The Faith of a Writer is a fascinating book for its “Also by Joyce Carol Oates” page(s) alone. By 2003 she’d hung half-a-hundred on us and already the list is behind by at least the two hardcovers I saw at Barnes & Noble last week. It’s also nifty for its first page, titled “My Faith as a Writer”:

I believe that art is the highest expression of the human spirit.

I believe that we yearn to transcend the merely finite and ephemeral; to participate in something mysterious and communal called “culture”—and that this yearning is as strong in our species as the yearning to reproduce the species.

Through the local or regional, through our individual voices, we work to create art that will speak to others who know nothing of us. In our very obliqueness to one another, an unexpected intimacy is born.

The individual voice is the communal voice.

The regional voice is the universal voice.

Once I expected such statements about writing to be crystalline, final words for what a writer represents or intends by her work. However, Oates’s statement is anything but crystalline; rather, it is swirling. From universal to specific to universal it turns; one mixes with another in an orderly, but not chaotic fashion. I like this better than crystals.



this is not universal…just specific…and possibly overly celebrated…but it is overly celebrated for a reason:

Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing…Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
~ E. L. Doctorow, NY Times, 1985

Although really that’s not what I wanted to write about from the book. What I wanted to write of was this:

(Writing is not a race. No one really “wins.” The satisfaction is in the effort, and rarely in the consequent rewards, if there are any.)....

Write for your own time, if not for your own generation exclusively. you can’t write for “posterity”—it doesn’t exist. You can’t write for a departed world. You may be addressing, unconsciously, an audience that doesn’t exist; you may be trying to please someone who won’t be pleased, and who isn’t worth pleasing.

Most specifically, I like that last sentence; however, wise as it is, I’ve only got foggy thoughts about it, so I’ll let it hang like decoration here.


and, doctorow’s quote and the two oates’ quotes (it’s better if you don’t pronounce the possesive)

have nothing to do with each other.

well, i take that back

the 2nd oates and doctorow are related, somewhat. in tha writing is writing

Thing is with Oates, in comparison to Doctorow, is that, when you get her to talk about her process, it seems she hardly bothers turning on the lights. Listen to that Writer’s Block show on the Infinite Mind (also linked above) for example, and it turns out that she makes multiple drafts before she ever puts pen to paper. When I think of that, I don’t know whether to be in awe, or to be in awe.

Did we not manage to write the same thing at the same time?

No, Oates’s, although if I were to read aloud, or if I were possessing her poetically, I’d read Oates’. It’s more important to diacritically mark singular possessives than to be graphically concerned with the word’s trailing letter. Also Jesus’s; when read aloud, it’s Jesuses.

yes…i know. i should’ve explained my parenthetical better.

oates and quotes sounds funner than oateses quotes.

unless, of course, you can say oates’s quoteses

oh, and i did leave off the s, only because i didn’t want it prounced.

You talk as if spelling had anything to do with pronunciation. You poet.

frankly, i am not that impressed with j.c.o. how can anyone really have THAT much of importance to say? clearly she doesn’t have a problem with writer’s block, but she might need to work on her editing a little bit. or a lot. i mean, the BIBLE is only sixty-something books, isn’t it? (oops, maybe that’s just the OT…) but anyway, most of them are shorter than hers.

poet, or someone who much prefers spanish or italian…or any other sensible language…not french, no not french and many times not english…german? german’s good.

i’ve only read one story by oates… “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” and liked it.

mary has a good point…if, as an author you surpass, at least the OT, you should sit down and shut up…and stop running, or walking (she apparently writes long passages in her head before she she sits and writes at whatever her chosen machine is).

i stopped reading updike, as well. he tired me…not necessarily his stories, but the sheer volume of his verbiage

26 novels
1 novela
11 books of short stories (or so, depending on how you count ‘em)
6 or 7 collections of poetry
9 or so collections of essays (if you count Golf Dreams)
5 children’s books

i stopped after 5 novels, one collection of short stories, a handful of essays and poems…it just makes me tired!

i am currently crafting the letter to the editor and don’t have the foggiest what my essay on oviedo is about.

a few updike quotes from our wiki friends

A healthy male adult bore consumes each year one and a half times his own weight in other people’s patience.

America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy.

Vagueness and procrastination are ever a comfort to the frail in spirit.

Time is not our enemy invader,but an element of ourselves.

It was true of my generation, that the movies were terribly vivid and instructive. There were all kinds of things you learned. Like the 19th century novels, you saw how other social classes lived— especially the upper classes. So in a funny way, they taught you manners almost. But also moral manners. The gallantry of a Gary Cooper or an Errol Flynn or Jimmy Stewart. It was ethical instruction of a sort that the church purported to be giving you, but in a much less digestible form. Instead of these remote, crabbed biblical verses, you had contemporary people acting out moral dilemmas. Just the grace, the grace of those stars— not just the dancing stars, but the way they all moved with a certain grace. All that sank deep into my head, and my soul.

i don’t guess i can go back in and edit that can i?

i can ban myself, spam myself, but not edit, or so it seems to lo tech me

sorry, joc has ju squarely beat. i’m surprised there are words left for others to employ after she gets done with the dictionary

novel, novella, short story, young fiction, essay, poetry, drama…all told, around 111 books

now, i will quitely go back to my measely little letter.

You ought to be able to edit by clicking on the date of each individual comment. No matter, though. I took care of it.

But anyway, JCO has indeed beaten the Bible for sheer number of books, about a fourth of them under a pseudonym. And you forgot her literary criticism, which frequently appears in American Literature. With that kind of throughput, it’s less what she has to say than the fact that she is compelled to say, and say, and say. In The Faith of a Writer she lets slip that she memorized Alice in Wonderland and Huckleberry Finn. Gaw.

I see that, and I weep for those of us who often can’t drum out a comprehensible cover letter.

Can I just say how (insistently) retarded it is not to research my previous titles before I put numbers on current ones? The other post about writing (as if they all weren’t about writing anyway) was About Writing. “on Writing 2” should actually be “on Writing 1,” and it probably should more appropriately be, “JCO is a robot.”

can i just take this moment to thank greg for always cleaning up after me? :)

sometimes subtly (how the hell is that pronounced…even worse subtlety!!) sometimes not. it’s always appreciated.

even if k. gets jealous.

Every time I see the word esoteric I hear e-ZAH-terik, not eh-so-TARE-ic.

That was a lousy Oscar speech. :)

well, i might have to get jealous, that is if g. were not constantly cleaning up after my pots & pans, coffee cups, and silverware. also coffee thermoses, water bottles, plates, and glasses. so j. and i both have got a pretty sweet deal going here (cinderelly, cinderelly…)...

When kl & I were dating, which was about a week before we were married, she took me to New York to meet her parents and old friends. We sat around the table and ate dessert at her parents’ house. At some point I began bussing the plates—they were taking up room and were no longer being used, after all. I stood in the kitchen, and from it I heard a friend whisper, “He’s a keeper!” Which is to say to you, dear single man, either learn to cook good like J, or to clean good like me, and your partner will probably not throw you back in the water.

I read last night that JCO’s process is so: write passages while running, transcribe them longhand, then transcribe/revise on typewriter.

well, i don’t remember that little story, but i’ll take your word for it. :)

about JCO, gotta say i’m not liking that long-hand writing business. skip the unnecessary step, i say. granted, my opinion doesn’t carry quite as much weight as that of a famous author, but what the heck.

i guess the more pressing point about that chapter in JCO’s book is that listening to NPR or david bowie while running isn’t going to help you crank out that novel by next month. efficiency!

Listening to Bowie will, however, move my booty.

I, I wish I could swim
like dolphins, like dolphins can swim.
No nothing, nothing will keep us together.
We could be there, forever and ever.
Oh we could be heroes, just for one day!

I, I will be king!
And you, you will be queen!...
We could be heroes! Just for one day!

i feel tragic like i’m
marlon brando
when i look at my china girrrlll

reading this makes me feel like daliah.

yes he says in breathy voice who does this dedication go out to?

-my wife…i just want us to be heroes for one day, but she keeps calling me her china girl

well, caller…we all go through cha, cha, cha, changes

Flat out, my favorite Bowie is “John, I’m only Dancing.” I’ve got a very limited collection, though. “Sound & Vision” is a good song, but I only know it via the sea and cake.

You guys (that’d be G and KL) were dating before you got married? Really?

[I felt the remark needed to be made, even if I had to be the one to do it. . . . now on to our regularly scheduled commenting. . . .]

I am not a fan of JCO, although I have read very little of what she’s written, so perhaps it’s a bit unfair of me to judge. I do often write in long hand, and in my head, but never while running, since I never run. From now on, though, I shall explain that it is due to my lack of running that I have not yet completed the Great American Nonfiction Narrative.

Aye, and I blame the weather. Get cracking, L, else we’ll send Mr. Frey to crash on your sofa.


Return: JCO may be a fount of endless writing, but GGM is not.