October 25, 2012

"You have to be a terrible monster to write."

"Someone might have told you something they shouldn’t have told you, and you have to be prepared to use it because it will make a great story. You have to use it even though the person is identifiable. If you can’t do it then writing isn’t for you. You’ve no right to be here. If there is any way I can help you get into law school then I will. Your morality will be more useful in a courtroom."


Salamandyr said...

Pretentious git, ain't he?

I think Sarah Hoyt admirably deflated him.

LYNNDH said...

Since when?

chickelit said...

Why so diacritical of words?

traditionalguy said...

OK, a gay Irishman who thinks he tells more truth in his fantasies than plain old fact reporters do. He has that "vision thing."

But knowing what the mix of facts with story telling that a Jury will accept is a Trial Lawyer's art. It is harder and takes more experience than it does to fool a few bored readers of fiction.

Spielberg's Lincoln is due out soon, and that will show a trial lawyer's experience used by a small town lawyer who refused to lose and won.

Paddy O said...

I doubt he would care in the least what Sarah Hoyt thinks of him.

All writers are pretentious gits. They have to be. They make their living thinking other people want to know their thoughts and stories.

edutcher said...

That last sentence does beat "First, let's kill all the lawyers".

Ann Althouse said...

Writers are always trying to dispose of the competition.

For example, they are fond of saying that no one should be a writer who can possibly do anything else. It's that kind of calling. Very drama queen.

And they love that Samuel Johnson quote about nobody but a "blockhead" ever wrote except for money.

Put those 2 things together and virtually everyone is booted out of the writing field.

More left for me! Ah ha ha ha ha!


EDH said...

"Someone might have told you something they shouldn’t have told you, and you have to be prepared to use it... Your morality will be more useful in a courtroom.”

Obviously, he's never encountered Gloria Allred.

wyo sis said...

I'd like to note here that we have been conditioned to see writers in this certain way because of how they write about themselves. What if everyone could write the way a gifted writer does about themselves and their passions or professions? I bet there would be a lot more pretension about other professions and probably a similar blow-up of self-importance.

Salamandyr said...

I don't find professional writers as a group all that pretentious, especially when compared to, for instance, teachers.

Now there is a group that buys their own press!

Mitchell said...

Your morality will be more useful in a courtroom.

I think that's mostly true but the booze still comes in handy.

Scott M said...

I'm not sure you have to be a monster to write, but I do know you have to tap into parts of you that normally are kept under a tight lid. It's making sure that lid is replaced securely that's the trick.

Lem said...

Tóibín sees his book as “a pure act of empathy. Trying to imagine what it would have been like for Mary, and in doing that I found myself in a difficult space I didn’t want to go into again, ever. Even reading it over was disturbing.”

I imagine Supreme chief Roberts in that "space" right now... and I'm comforted as it were by my imagination.

creeley23 said...

Yet Toibin's current book is just his imagining of the Virgin Mary telling her version of Christ's life. Not a story anyone told him.

I guess the monstrousness is the presumptuousness, but who's impressed by that these days.

Writers tell stories. That's their job. It includes their advice about writing. But other than keeping at it, there's not much else to say.

Michael said...

I once attended a midwestern university's famous writer's program. The students fell into three camps; those that posed, those that studied to be writers and those that wrote. The last were driven to write and many went on to publish novels and books of poems that you would be familiar with. Those in the middle, in which group I counted myself, went on to teach and, some, to publish books you would not have read or heard of. The first group mostly vanished except for one or two who wrote in fountain pens in notebooks and went on to be semi-famous. All were better writers than I.

Freeman Hunt said...

Absurd. No, you do not have to do that. If you are only able to produce excellent writing from identifiable information that you shouldn't be using, you are not much of a writer.

Freeman Hunt said...

And if you're willing to sell people out like that, you're not much of a man. In that case, why should anyone care about what you have to say?

Freeman Hunt said...

Not all writers write about themselves. Some do. Lots of insufferable ones do.

Freeman Hunt said...

His latest novel, which is novella length, is called The Testament of Mary. That’s Mary as in the Virgin Mary. In old age she is giving her version of the life of Christ. Having spent a lifetime listening to everyone else’s versions, she is angry. “They appear more often now,” she reflects at one point, referring to two of Jesus’s disciples. “Both of them, and on every visit they seem more impatient with me and with the world. There is something hungry and rough in them. A brutality boiling in their blood.”
It may seem like sacrilege to some, but Christians are more tolerant than Muslims when it comes to having their sacred figures fictionalised, I say. Indeed, I bet Salman Rushdie wishes he had written about Mary rather than Mohammed.
“Yes, I wonder if that is more true in Europe than America, though,” Tóibín says. “Here we have a history of putting words into Mary’s mouth. George Moore and DH Lawrence did it. Monty Python did it! The issue with Salman was people believed what his characters were saying was what he thought, which is a fundamental misunderstanding of how a novel works, how a writer works. Most of the protesters hadn’t even read the book.”

Oh, please. I realize he's saying "more," but that's like saying it's more true of Singapore than of the Maldives that it is not covered with snow.

traditionalguy said...

Some writers study writing. Others simply produce it.

Lem said...

"She told me things I didn't know.”

Like... for instance.. that some women have to choose whether to go the the gynecologist or the dentist.

Scott M said...

The students fell into three camps; those that posed, those that studied to be writers and those that wrote.

There's a frantic quality to group three that I wish I could capture and use. I love doing the research and outlining. When the impulse grabs to crank out 5000 words, it usually lasts a day or so and it's awesome. Those third groupers, though, they are like that every single day.

Michael said...

ScottM: The writers, the last category, lived to write. They worked weird odd jobs to pay for the time they needed to write. They rarely drank with the first two crowds, they were as intent on writing as a first year investment banker is on making it. And they worked like investment bankers. They fucking hustled looking back on it.

Lem said...

Obviously, he's never encountered Gloria Allred.

Speaking of witch.. (not a misspelling)

TMZ is reporting her request to ungag her client was shut down by the hot judge ... because Gloria never submitted an official motion to the court.

Notoriety and sloppiness can make a delicious schadenfreude.

John Lynch said...

Althouse got it.

Writing isn't that hard, which is why it pays so poorly.

Unlike teaching, there's no writers' union driving up wages.

John Lynch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lem said...

"You have to be a terrible monster to write."

There is more acting, more life, to an evil character in a play or in a movie... I've heard said many times.

Is as if goodness is more associated with nothing (todays theme) and evil with something... and when you write, I presume you have to write about something..

If you write about nothing... is a comedy... or nothing.

Jack Wayne said...

"If there is any way I can help you get into law school then I will. Your morality will be more useful in a courtroom."

Since lawyers can argue either side of a case, I've always considered them amoral.

Lem said...

Since lawyers can argue either side of a case, I've always considered them amoral.

A bi lawyer

amorous.. getit?

tough crowd.

DADvocate said...

I'm a terrible monster, at least according to my ex, but it doens't seem to help my writing. Indeed, I protect my ex's identity. (Her name, address and phone number are available for a small fee, however.)

Lem said...

Writers are always trying to dispose of the competition.

A naging thought, way way in the back of the head, that somebody else knows better than me what I'm only pretending... maybe?

The Germans call it 'hintergedanken'.

wyo sis said...

Those Germans. It's like they speak a different language.

They have so many great words for heinous acts and thoughts.

James Pawlak said...

What does "morality" have to do with court rooms?

ricpic said...

Not all writers write about themselves.

True. And yet all writers write out of themselves. Where else would they have to draw on in order to get behind the fronts others put up?

Not all writers are monsters. There are some writers who are temperamentally "square" and feel no compulsion to be transgressive. I am thinking of Wallace Stegner, one of the greatest American writers, much of whose work is dark but not epater le bourgeois, because he was essentially bourgeois.

For those who've never read him I would recommend: Crossing To Safety; The Spectator Bird; All The Little Live Things.

Nora said...

Well then, why is it called 'fiction' methink?

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elkh1 said...

When has one's "morality" ever been useful in a courtroom?
A lawyer uses existing laws to defend his client, whether he believes his client is guilty or not is irrelevant. (I learned that from TV shows.) So where does morality come in in a courtroom?

sydney said...

I've always understood that a good writer can take a true story and improve upon it so that the real events and people are not recognisable, but the themes with which it deals are.

Amartel said...

Drama monarch.

sleepless nights said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sleepless nights said...

This reminds me of Lisa Brennan-Jobs using her anger at her aunt, Mona Simpson, for stealing her teenage words for Mona's book, A Regular Guy, as fodder for a published essay.

Yeah, I'd be mad, too, if my aunt directly lifted my material before I could use it for my first novel.