Friday, June 19, 2009

"The attention that makes a piece of writing something special"

Jenny Diski served as guest editor for a student magazine and wrote an introduction that (along with her selections) caused the student editors to "sack" her:
"How do you tell the real writers from those in search of a pot of fame and gold? You look at the writing and find engagement with the world (even if it is in the form of disengagement), a deep concern with precision of thought and language, a willingness to risk originality. It doesn't happen very often. Good writers have always been rare, and they are not the same as adept sentence-makers who can contrive a story that reads well enough but leaves you wondering why anyone bothered to write it. That's the test: the best writing leaves you feeling it was inevitable, that it has been crafted into existence of necessity for the writer and the reader.

"All the stories I read for this selection were competently written, but only a few struck me as having come from that necessity. There were genre pieces and memoir, and quite a few stories that depended for their existence on something that has been written before. All writers do that to start with, you have to clear a space for yourself to work in. What surprised me most was how many of the stories felt unfinished, as if I were reading a early draft. Problems with structure, sentences that need to be worked on, far too many easy clichés not rejected - all of this normal for a first draft, even a second. For me writing is the editing. It's where the you make the story your own. Draft, redraft, let the thing sit, and then consider it again, read closely, carefully, cut away everything that you haven't properly thought through, and some things that you have. A few of the stories I reviewed read to me as if they had received the attention that makes a piece of writing something special, and they're to be celebrated. Good writing is hard to come by. It's what I understand Beckett to have meant when he wrote, towards the end of his life, what any writer must take as essential instruction: 'Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.'"

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