Thursday, July 19, 2007

Becoming a Novelist


While visiting the family, I happened upon my mother’s copy of O and paged through “The Reading Room” section with great interest. In the article “Inside the Writer’s Mind,” the magazine’s editors put this question before six working writers:

Besides talent, what are the particular human qualities it takes to be a novelist?

Joshua Ferris had this to say:

“It takes no particular human quality for one to become a novelist save this: the ability to endure long stretches of time at one’s desk." Mr. Ferris goes on to elaborate what you might be doing at this desk, describing the imagination as:

"…Preoccupations and curiosities you believe best served not by the casual anecdote, the emotive email, the journal entry, or the autobiographical essay, but through the variegated freedom that comes from making people out of words. People and planes landing on tarmac and lost tourists at nightfall in a land of casual murder. Words spoken in a voice you search for and hold like water in your hand. A voice lost and recaptured over and over during your hours at your desk. A voice borrowed from a chorus of voices you like best, now distilled from that chorus and distilled and distilled down your specific range and harmony. A range and harmony that coalesce your preoccupations and curiosities into a story of people made with words inhabiting a world inimitably yours. The people and the tarmacs and the tourist anxious to find their hotel in the dark. Inimitably yours because you shaped them hour after hour at your desk. Their conflict, their destiny, in your inimitable voice, confronting the vagaries of your imagined voice. Will they survive? The two hooded figures are approaching. The moon-dark beach is endless. What they would do to be at home right now. What they would do to be at your desk, determining the fate of their world” (O, The Reading Room, 160).

Wow! What a lyrical, lovely passage to capture the essence of our craft, that magical shaping of characters and landscapes from the raw cargo of words. Ferris structures his homage to the writing process through parallel, incomplete sentences, repeating openings to create a cadence and lull me into believing his thesis.

Yes, I’ll buy it in part. Hours at the desk, is another way of saying discipline, but none of us will be able to sculpt such poetic passages unless we are also readers. A writer is a passionate reader first. Stay in the desk and spin your daydreams, but also make sure a good portion of the day is saved for reading with a writer’s eye for detail. Read poetry, both contemporary and classic. Read the masters and read your peers. Read Chekhov and Alice Munro. Read novellas and read the sprawling epics. Read magazines and newspapers and let your imagination spread out like a fisherman’s net, hauling in anything strange and wondrous to be saved for a later day. Yes, spend your hours at the desk, but never forget that it was your passion as a reader that brought you there in the first place and will sustain you during the times the imagination runs dry.

4 comments:

Vineeth said...

I am so glad you posted this. Saved me the effort of typing up this beautiful passage so as to send it to my friends.

Thank you,

Vineeth

Vineeth said...

Thank you posting this beautiful piece on writing by Josh Ferris.

Vineeth said...

Thank you .It was a great article.

Anonymous said...

I actually think your last paragraph was on a par with the above quotation, if not more relevant.