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Writing about writers who are writing about writing.

I was catching up on reading when I came across this article in The New York Times Magazine.  It’s about a Southern writer named Padgett Powell (I’d never heard of him). When his first novel came out in 1984, Powell was a literary darling, scooping up writing prizes, finding his name on all sorts of superlative lists, and even nabbing a job teaching at the University of Florida. But as he kept writing, he kept challenging the stodgy status quo of the American literary establishment and you can pretty well guess what that meant: he was quickly relegated to obscurity. After reading Dan Halpern’s profile of Powell, though, I’m compelled to read some of his work. I mean, how can we possibly shove aside a writer who, as Halpern wrote, “does [what] most writers don’t dare anymore… risk failure.”

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Lots of my writer friends have been reflecting on the writing process lately:  Carlo. David. Eileen. Josh. LizLola. Sarah. They’re coming at the issue from different angles, but what I sense pulsating just beneath all of their words is Padgett-esque: the desire, the need, to write on one’s own terms. The imperative of stepping out of the social media gyre long enough to really just be with words, to remember and feel the pleasure of writing again. The acceptance of the fact that even if no one else reads what they’re writing, that the act of writing itself means everything.

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7 responses »

  1. Exactly Julie. When you can strip everything else away and just write for the sake of writing, that’s it. It’s just too bad we need money to live!

    Reply
  2. “The desire to write on one’s own terms” – that’s what I noticed as well.
    I feel like everyone always wants to find the “meaning” of things, and what’s “right and good” versus “wrong and bad”, but I think with writing it really is all about the process and the experience.
    Writing is such a personal thing, and some people will agree/like with what you write and some people won’t, that’s the chance you take when you put your work out there.

    Reply
  3. I love how you distilled the conversations I’ve been reading this week about writing. Life and art are certainly all about living and creating on one’s own terms.

    With any art, it’s about being with your medium and creating a relationship of depth. I’m still trying to dig for and build that relationship with writing. I think it’s coming slowly, but it requires a lot of courage and honesty with one’s self.

    “The acceptance of the fact that even if no one else reads what they’re writing, that the act of writing itself means everything” certainly applies to music too. At different points in my life I’ve reached “burn out” with music due to constant outer and inner pressure and critique, coupled with the need to make money from something personal. In the end, I have to step back and return to the music itself, re-examining why it is I do what I do and what it means to me and the world.

    Reply
  4. Unfortunately we all need some money, and writing doesn’t pay so well so our subject interest can be persuaded by that.

    Reply
    • Rob-

      Agreed that we all need money. The way I’ve found I can maintain my integrity by writing what I want to write no matter what is to make money not solely through that writing, but as an editor, researcher, and translator. I don’t want to compromise my interests or my writing just to make a buck. And for me (though I’m not judging people who do this), I don’t want to clutter up my blogs with ads or try to monetize them in other ways. Like I said, I just want to write. When I make money off that, that’s excellent. And if I’m not making money off it, that’s okay, too. I’ve got a diversified income stream at all times.

      Reply
  5. Christopher Porter

    Nice stuff here. Hope you find and enjoy finding Padgett Powell. He is one of a kind. I reviewed his new book:

    http://thebrowntweedsociety.com/2009/11/24/tbts-reviews-the-interrogative-mood/

    Also be sure to check out “Aliens of Affection.” It’s still my favorite!

    Reply

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