July 6th, 2011 / 6:21 pm
Craft Notes

Seriously, Though… Some Thoughts on Writers Who Take Themselves Seriously

In an interview with The Paris Review, the whole of which is worth reading, James Salter discussed his writing process and how he thinks through his writing at the language level. He said:

I’m a frotteur, someone who likes to rub words in his hand, to turn them around and feel them, to wonder if that really is the best word possible. Does that word in this sentence have any electric potential? Does it do anything? Too much electricity will make your reader’s hair frizzy. There’s a question of pacing. You want short sentences and long sentences—well, every writer knows that. You have to develop a certain ease of delivery and make your writing agreeable to read.

Throughout the interview he speaks at length about his process and his influences and how he  deliberately approaches his craft. He gives the impression of a writer who takes his craft and himself as a writer seriously. There is a confidence in his words, and he does not shirk away from being open about putting in the work of writing. Certainly, some of this confidence and self-awareness comes from a long career and the wisdom that comes with being older. He has had plenty of time to be able to articulate his aesthetic and his process. I would also think, though, that given his body of work, and the way he approached the interview, he is a writer who has always taken himself seriously.

Since The Paris Review put their interviews online and I subscribed to the magazine, I’ve been reading the interviews studiously because they are always so richly detailed, perfectly orchestrated, and didactic. One common theme in nearly every interview is that nearly every writer takes themselves seriously. They have different philosophies and approaches to writing. They have different processes. They are mostly humble, sometimes self-deprecating, but they always detail, in some form or fashion, the level of work they put into their writing and the work they put into conceiving their writing. They articulate their influences and how you can see those influences in their writing.  They don’t provide pithy answers about happenstance or treat writing as some casual affair and I respect that, the willingness to say, “My art is not accidental.”

Louise Erdrich was asked if she revises already published work and she was open about how seriously she takes her writing even after her work has been published.

At every opportunity. Usually, I add chapters that I have written too late to include in the original. Or I try to improve the Ojibwe language used in the book. As I learn more or I consult my teachers, I learn how much I don’t know. Ojibwe is something I’ll be a lifelong failure at—it is my windmill. I’ve changed Love Medicine quite a lot, and I wanted to reviseThe Blue Jay’s Dance. For one thing I wanted to take out the recipes. Don’t try the lemon-meringue pie, it doesn’t work. I’ve received letters. I can’t wait to change Four Souls. There are some big mistakes in that.

Asked how having a family affected his writing, T.C. Boyle was also quite clear that he takes his writing seriously.

Having a family has been very good for me (and I hope good for them too). It gave me the stability I needed to begin and pursue a career as a writer. People tend to romanticize the picture of a writer—they want it to be easy, something a genius can just knock off between debauches, because if it is, if it doesn’t require talent, discipline and a lifelong commitment, then maybe there’s a hope that they, too, someday can knock out their own great and stirring work. We have the devastating example before us of the overwhelming numbers of American writers destroyed by dope and booze—Tom Dardis’s The Thirsty Muse is a real eye-opener—and people tend to think that chemically altering one’s mind is the way to inspiration. Maybe it is. But for me it seems counterproductive. I have never written a sentence—or even thought of writing a sentence—without being in the clearest state of mind. This is my life’s work. This is what I’m meant to do, and why screw with it? I think the way to be a writer is to experience things, certainly, and be open to things, but at some point to become dedicated to the craft of writing and to create a stable environment for that writing to occur in. At least in my case that’s true. So having a family and leading a stable life is absolutely essential to any writing I’ve ever done. When I did my earliest writing, I led a pretty wild life, and the writing was fairly spotty. I would write occasionally. Now I write every day, seven days a week, all year long. And it is my life.

In every case, we see the method behind the writing. We see dedication and persistence. There is little magic or mystery involved.

Since Sean posted about the Fugue play issue and the ensuing conversation where Lia Purpura was accused of taking her work too seriously, I’ve been thinking about what it means to take writing seriously and why taking writing seriously seems to be a bad thing. Some of the responses in that discussion gave the impression that all the “cool” kids were pointing and laughing at a writer who respects her writing and the integrity of her work so much that she dares to defend it. Heaven forbid someone choose not to believe everything is “whatever.” I do not understand the disdain for hard work and people who then acknowledge that they’ve worked hard, that their artistic choices are deliberate and considered.

I’ve read Purpura’s response a few times and from what I’ve seen there, a writer who takes themselves seriously is someone who can clearly articulate the intent of their work, how, ideally they want their work to be read, and why they take issue when someone tries to compromise that intent. I find that admirable. When you are a writer who has thought carefully about your work, who has executed that work carefully, it makes sense to be upset when a magazine publishes your work in a manner that contradicts the effort and intent you put into that work. I respect the value of play but I wonder where the boundaries are? Play is supposed to be fun. If everyone isn’t having fun, we’re not talking about play anymore. Now, once I write something, I know I have no control over how it is received. When I send my work to a magazine and they agree to publish it, I know I only have some control over how they present that work. I would have not reacted the way Purpura reacted but that’s neither here nor there. This isn’t about me. Every writer has a right to their opinion about how their work is published. There is a certain expectation that your artistic integrity won’t be compromised when you enter into a contract for publication even if, as in this case, the theme was play. The editors were serious enough to articulate their editorial vision and choices for the issue in question so the “accusation” of seriousness cannot be applied to the writer alone.

I am not a writer with a complex process. I don’t do a lot of research or have too many rules about writing. In a decade, that will likely change. I’m always evolving as a writer.  Meanwhile, I do a lot of my writing in my head and then I sit and write. Sometimes, good things come forth. Other times, not so much and I have to rethink what I’ve written because it’s just not working. I take myself seriously. I take my writing seriously. I write every day. I read every day. I rarely deviate from this. I do not expect anyone else to take me seriously. I don’t take myself too seriously. I work at it but writing is what I do for fun and I have a lot of fun doing it.

Sometimes it is easier to pretend you don’t care about your writing or that you don’t work hard at this writing thing because that seems like the cool thing to do as if you are somehow a better writer, more of a “genius” or wunderkind if you don’t give real consideration to your work. We’ve all done that, sure, but it’s bluster.  In my experience, the writers who talk the most about how little they take their work seriously, about how it’s just words man,  are the most serious of all. Taking your writing seriously is not the same as taking your writing too seriously or feeling self-important. Even if it were, so what? You don’t have to take yourself seriously as a writer but you are in good company if you do. Rarely is great art accidental.

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  1. Ken Baumann

      I mostly don’t read interviews with writers, anymore. Everything is better.

  2. Roxane

      I find TPR interviews to be amazing. They read like the greatest stories ever told.

  3. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      I really don’t get the idea of making fun of taking writing seriously. If you’re not taking it seriously, then what’s the point of showing it to people? Why clutter us with more useless bullshit and expect it to mean something to us when it means nothing to you?

      As for that Fugue entry thing, writing is maybe the only aspect of my life that I allow myself complete control over. I know and am ok with the fact that I do not wield complete control of my job or my friends or when and where I can take a shit or what my sister does or what my kid does or what my parents do. It’s not my place to impose complete control over people, so I see writing not only as something I like doing, but also something that is all mine and untarnished by external influences. So when some asshole publisher and asshole writer decides to take this only thing I concede to holding complete control over and decides I’m wrong and changes it without my say-so, I’m going to fucking flip out.

      I try and act like writing is not that difficult because I want people who don’t think of themselves as writers not to be afraid of picking up the pen. I also really don’t feel writing is that hard, but then again, after writing 300k words, I don’t think it should be very difficult.

      Thanks for this!

  4. Brian McElmurry

      Cool! I enjoyed this. Paris Review interviews are amazing.

  5. MyfanwyCollins

      I love Dorothy Allison for many reasons and have been so lucky to work with her at a couple of workshops in which she has been so honest about how difficult writing is for a woman because so often, among other things, we feel the need to clean the fucking house before we work or whatever and this is not about being feeling a need to be a good housekeeper it is about a pathology to not be seen a certain way. I read an excellent, excellent interview with her online in which she said her son represented (and I paraphrase) one or two novels she has not written. I read this when I was pregnant and I sort of got it then but I definitely get it now. There is a huge gain and that gain is this beautiful being, but as a mother you lose that sense of self that allows you to be the book right then and there; you are more and less than that. And I’ve been fascinated by Dorothy’s process for learning about writers is particularly interesting because she sought out women and writers and interviewed and grilled them about how do you do this and that before she did this or that. Roxane, frankly, I think you and she would get along great if you haven’t met each other already. Really, you should. I think James Salter is great and inspiring but who needs frotteur? Do we need that?

  6. MFBomb

      This speaks to the anti-intellectualism that’s so pervasive in American Letters, the “it’s-just-words-dude” posturing.  We pretend like anti-intellectualism is only a disease affecting Tea Party members, but it affects our entire culture.  
      Anyway, I love literary interviews, but I hate some of the same bland, generic questions interviewers ask. I like thorough questions that actually demonstrate a familiarity with the writer’s work.  I guess process-oriented questions need to be more vague and open-ended, but too often, entire interviews are dominated by these sorts of questions. 

  7. Roxane

      You’ll find that TPR interviews, which take place across days or even months, do get into really great questions. I only cherry-picked process questions because they were relevant to the matter at hand. And I agree, anti-intellectualism encroaches upon us at an alarming pace.

  8. Sarasoo

      “I’m a frotteur, someone who likes to rub words in his hand, to
      turn them around and feel them, to wonder if that really is the best
      word possible.”

      Kind of puts ”moomoo writer” Jordan Castro’s twit into perspective doesn’t it.

  9. Dawn.

      Great post, Roxane. I’m madly in love with TPR interviews. It is really apparent how seriously every writer takes their work, and how well they articulate their individual processes. I love it, I admire it. I enjoy studying at their feet.

      Anti-intellectualism is so gross; ditto for apathetic posturing. I’m not that familiar with the whole Fugue controversy, but from what I’ve gathered, I wouldn’t have reacted the way Purpura did at all, but I agree that she has a right to. I mean, it is her work, and I see it as a good thing that she takes her writing seriously. If you call yourself a writer, I think you should.

  10. Christian

      I generally agree with what you’re saying, but I think there are different ways of taking writing seriously. I can get really worked up when a writer seems flippant (which I usually perceive as an act), but, among my writer friends, I’m also always the one to tell people to quit taking the work so seriously. I really don’t understand the “write every day” and “revise your work til there’s no blood left” school of thought (I know I’m being hyperbolic here). Not only do I not usually like the work by people who talk about writing like it’s a monastic vocation (I’ll take Maupassant over Flaubert any day), but I also suspect it’s a way of not having to face rejection and/or the conversation I want literature to be. I never wrote every day except when I found the groove in a specific book, and now that I’ve got a baby and a full-time job I’ll probably never get the chance to. But I think those things inform my writing and I’ve still got stuff to say.

  11. Tyler Gobble

      I really like what you say about writing being the only thing you have control over, as that is one reason that I started writing in the first place, because it’s something I can shape, shift, love, hold, and present in my exact way. However, I also love reading for similar reasons, because I can imagine, dig into, and interact with someone else’s text under my own will and desires. Which is why I’d have to disagree with the urge to “fucking flip out” over something like that, though I certainly see your perspective. For me, I see it similar to how I can’t control how a reader’s reaction, like if they interpret a passage differently than I’d hoped or even if they only read a stanza of my poem before dismissing it. So, if an editor uses his will and desires to alter my work, especially in a such a seemingly rare and odd way, I can’t imagine myself getting upset over such an issue. Again, I just mean this as what your thoughtful response brought up in my head.


  12. Leopoldbloom

      That’s unfortunate.  Although one has to just follow the best personal route for one’s own nature, something can be learned from every one of those interviews.

  13. christopher.

      I have to default to Tyler on this. It seems strange to me that one would think of writing as something they can have complete control over. I mean, I suppose you do have complete control over the words you put on the page, but you have no control whatsoever about how a reader is going to receive those words.

  14. christopher.

      I have to default to Tyler on this. It seems strange to me that one would think of writing as something they can have complete control over. I mean, I suppose you do have complete control over the words you put on the page, but you have no control whatsoever about how a reader is going to receive those words.

  15. Anonymous

      there is a pretty big difference between not taking yourself too seriously and being part of the anti-intellectual, “i don’t give a shit” school of thought, no?

      just want to distinguish here – i identify with not taking yourself too seriously, but i do give a shit and i’m not interested in the anti-intellectual posturing at all.

  16. Anonymous

      there is a pretty big difference between not taking yourself too seriously and being part of the anti-intellectual, “i don’t give a shit” school of thought, no?

      just want to distinguish here – i identify with not taking yourself too seriously, but i do give a shit and i’m not interested in the anti-intellectual posturing at all.

  17. Anonymous

      that was really the thing to me – purpura is entitled to her reaction, but it seemed overblown in the context of what happened to me. and i think that’s where much of the “calm down, it’s not that serious” came in.

  18. Anonymous

      that was really the thing to me – purpura is entitled to her reaction, but it seemed overblown in the context of what happened to me. and i think that’s where much of the “calm down, it’s not that serious” came in.

  19. Ken Baumann

      I have read many of them; I’ve read every interview with an author I’ve read or had a friend recommend. I’ll keep reading them, if they are from an author who doesn’t speak about his/her work much, or if it’s a friend. I’ve read so much discussion about ‘craft’ from more writers than I now think necessary. 

  20. MFBomb

      Yourself vs. your writing…(big difference)

      Also, there are writers who believe false modesty is a virtue, or that it’s “uppity” to discuss work already out in the world; this seems to stem from a kind of anti-intellectualism that’s prevalent in the arts today, esp. in America. 

      If the work has left your hands, there’s no reason you can’t discuss it seriously, or pretend like it was all part of some divine, dreamlike process. 

  21. Leopoldbloom

      Ah, considering that, my apologies for misunderstanding. 

  22. NLY

      Without your careful distinctions, we may never have noticed that she didn’t in fact advocate taking ourselves too seriously.
      Your vigilance is appreciated.

  23. Anonymous


  24. Anonymous

      i think the yourself vs. your writing is the thing that’s catching me. that’s a better distinction than the one i was making. good call.

  25. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      Well that’s what I mean, Christopher. The only thing I have complete control over in this entire fucking miserable world are “the words put on the page.” That control does not extend to a reader’s interpretation. I’m fine with that. I advocate that.

      I’m not saying I have control over a whole lot. Just don’t take the only thing that is my baby away from me for some cute trick.

  26. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      Thanks for the thoughtful response, Tyler!

  27. Roxane

      I have not met Dorothy Allison but I certainly hope to. There are some real challenges for women writers with children. I often say that I can do all the things I do because I don’t have kids yet. I don’t have to choose between family and writing. Boyfriends complain a bit about the writing but I can ignore them in ways a child cannot be ignored. It requires balance.

  28. Darby Larson

      what? i will never take writing seriously. i take enough other things seriously already. but which is also to say i will maddeningly persist in creating some words using complexful processes i am fascinated with and my means this way im allowed which i hope is all allowable ways else i wouldnt do it if i had to be so serious not without expectations that i must explain something stop. serious is babies. drinking is funny but hangovers are serious business. serious cant be sitting in air conditioning writing nonsense while my tummy goes bubbly and some hubby pays for electrics. be serioous about it but thats you but what everyone but you thinks is unserious about it. serious is me crawling in mud at night with an M16. serious is being. serious is needing to eat and fuck and steal money later. writing fiction is a vacation from serious. writing can only ever be a perception of something serious. talking and talking does not equal serious and serious as much as talking and talking is blah blah. talking about things is not universally a natural means of being serious about a thing. talkies like to talk and talk talk is shut up mostly. blow up your books then go to the library or internet and read them to infinity but blow up your friends and weep. stop talking about your process and consider eating some cinnamon sticks instead. care about people and surviving instead of words that metaphorically portray people and surviving. go outside and give a stranger a cigarette instead of reading this comment. what happened to this giant place mlht. it used to be fun and off-the-cuffable. now its you’re the oddball asshole for having fun and here’s some finger-wagging for your face? dump it into a bucket already full of electric nonsense and piss some electric vinegar into it thank you

  29. Anonymous

      I only like serious readers.

  30. Benba57

      Take a look at  theyborn. Later, after Lepska, their mothpresent and a do with this flock  months since you put newthought to Partington Ridge by the mailman. This was an act which required a soft women?’ His days at Partington Rccounted for? If you answered no to any of these Henry and myself, a kind of conic relief to the day.
      One feature of the life at e strings of your guitar. What sort of shape are they in? Are they discolored? Rusty? Are all six strings parrot Partington Ridge was a trip down the hill every two days with a cart Emil White constructmmuted back and forth to Berkeley with her. Lepska vould go to Berkeley to visit with George Leite and help me for a string changewith the editing of Circle Magazine, This was to get the mail ‘and bring up the groceries. The groceries in those days were brand she would go out anoutically they were supposed to carry only the mail. Tony and Val, Henry’s children, were of course near, arrived to live.there, I would coquestions, or if ieddy scenes for us. And they provided fort’s been severalpecial dispensation to the postal system because theore strings on your guitar, it’s t. New strings make your guitar sound brighter, and generally make it easier to play. Just by being himself, regardless, they brought him cake. They brought him food.He had just moved in. One of his great problems was, ‘What two ledgeswere devoted solely to writing, June Lancaster, a dancer from Los Angeles, was in residence there,
      In the evening, two other women would come in, dance and carry on to phono- graph records, and act out.

  31. deadgod

      I take myself seriously.  […]  I don’t take myself too seriously.

      The blogicle and several posts are using take oneself seriously in (at least) two different ways:  a)  ‘expressing a no-nonsense respect for the opportunity to be creative’; and b)  ‘expressing pompous self-regard’.

      The former “seriousness” means not bullshitting – first:  oneself – about privilege; the second means bullshitting – first:  oneself – indeed about deserving privilege.

      All “seriousness” is neither the same nor equally to be held impervious to reasonable criticism and even constructive ridicule.

  32. deadgod

      There is little magic or mystery involved.

      Is this aspect of the paraphrase of the interviews-as-a-group quite accurate?  I’d be surprised if most of the authors interviewed didn’t see their persistent awareness of control and consciousness of craft while writing and rewriting (and reading as writers) in the context of irresolvable and indissoluble ‘mysteries’ of language, meaning, understanding, artistic choice and effect, and so on.

  33. Roxane

      Im not sure I understand your question but the interview excerpts weren’t paraphrased. In most of the interviews I’ve read, the writers don’t give over much of their process to the “mysteries of language,” etc. 

  34. Ethan


  35. Darby Larson


  36. Rion Amilcar Scott

      Children fucking hate literature.

  37. Darby Larson


  38. Sarasoo

      That was a pretty serious response for someone who doesn’t take words serious.

  39. Darby Larson


  40. deadgod

      The three “excerpts” in the blogicle look to be just that:  excerpts.  The paragraph starting “In every case,” was, I thought, a condensation or capsulization of not just the three quoted interviews, but of others – of many Paris Review interviews – in general–that is what I meant by “paraphrase”.

      No, writers quoted extensively in the thorough Paris Review interview way aren’t going to be quoted extensively as mystics. 

      Let me put it this way:  I’d be surprised if most – or any! – of those writers thought that the effects that their (or any) writing achieve are caused in a completely mechanically graspable way by purely conscious calculations of writers.

  41. Roxane

      Nor do I really suggest that. 

  42. Al Leslie

      great piece.

  43. deadgod

      Okay.  That must be what “In every case, we see the method behind the writing.  […]  There is little magic or mystery involved.” only seems to mean.

  44. Roxane

      You can feel free to interpret my words that way but that would be a narrow reading. 

  45. Darby Larson

      but you do kind of. you imply they at least partly dismiss the mystical or they dont find it valuable or worth talking about in interviews. “In most of the interviews I’ve read, the writers don’t give over much of their process to the “mysteries of language,” etc.” quote unquote becuase fuck mystery of language right?

      do you think writers approach writing they way accountants approach accounating?

      the most gorgeous thing about writing and why i love it with all my heart and at the same time consider it nonsenseful beautiful dribble and valuelessful empty buckets of gold is because of its mystical qualities [!] ugh. a writer who doesnt respect the mysteries of language needs to mister knee and panguid yotfil before they gun a junkyard fusterlicking what the fuck is the deal with fiction writers when did they become the most rigidly unimaginative pople in the enivers? lhjjj!

  46. Roxane

      I disagree. I say that they put in the work and the effort. I don’t really get into muse or inspiration at all because that’s a different thing entirely. When I say they don’t give over much of their process to mysteries etc, perhaps I was inaccurate. They don’t just hope something brilliant will happen. They sit down and they spend the time and energy on their writing. There is always an unknown quantity to writing, that thing that allows us to be creative and to play with language and ideas. I am a fiction writer so of course I do’n’t believe that writers should approach an art as accountants approach accounting. Again, I’m saying that some writers take themselves seriously. They don’t dismiss effort. The creativity they put out in the world is not accidental. I admire that.

  47. postitbreakup

      how can you go through this charade with the post directly below it, i thought out of the htmlgiant people you were one of only 2 who wasn’t an oblivious antisocial (in the clinical sense) narcissist… ie i thought you had a conscience and some compassion

  48. Darby Larson

      i guess i dont see a connection between caring and effort. i care fiercely about the mysteries of language and i love that creativity can be accidental. and maybe a segue here is higgs’s posts about experimental literature approaching the inhuman, which is to say there are processes that a writer is not in control of, and that is appealing to me. what effort or process i put in to my writing has nothing to do with how much i care or how devoted i am to it. why should it be. nor does the inherent value of a thing have anything to do with how much i care about thing. i write fiction i am aware is completely meaningless and i care deeply about it. i love the meaninglessness of it!

  49. Roxane

      Fair enough. For me, that connection is absolutely there, between caring and effort. There’s always some measure beyond the writer’s control in the creative process. I can rarely explain where my ideas come from or how stories pour out of me, but I do know it happens because I sit at the computer and open up Word and set to writing. 

  50. jon

      that was wacky and fun

  51. deadgod

      I don’t think I am “free” to read “In every case” and “There is little” except narrowly.

      Below, you seem to suggest (in different words) that you employ “method[s]” quite consciously in a way that wouldn’t rule out your awareness that words and meanings work mysteriously as well as controlledly.  That’s what I think most writers think.

  52. MFBomb

      You’re quite serious about what you don’t take seriously, aren’t you? I’ve noticed this about you. It sort of cancels out any argument you might have.  This post is also filled with strawmen.  So, if I say, “I take writing seriously,” I’m also saying that writing is more serious than feeding starving children or whatever.  Okkkkkkkkkk. 

      Doesn’t make any sense.

  53. MFBomb

      *or, as serious as feeding starving children or whatever. 

  54. MFBomb

      So, yeah, for someone who is supposedly balls of fun and laid back, it’s rather odd that you would limit the meaning of “seriousness” in this way.  

  55. DeWitt Brinson

      I think both ways are okay. The idea of the carefree, drunken writer is an old one and curiously seem equally present in eastern/western philosophy (eg Li Po and Rimbaud). To me, as an idea, it’s fairly elitist in the way leisure is exalted while actual work is never mentioned.

      The same way the royal family is expected to live a glamorous life unrestrained by monetary confines.

      But the feral writer persona is fun, and can be true. Kerouac, in On The Road, even says he did his real writing at his Mom’s house far away from his crew. I think she made him sandwiches. But people still seem to think he just got wild, ran around, and wrote in a haze.

      I don’t know. You may not even be talking about this. You’re really talking about people who act like they don’t care about writing and I’m talking about people who pretend like they don’t care about life or they care too much. They’re only partly related, probably. Still I’m going to post this.

      Anecdote: I was hanging out with a lady with a column in McSweeny’s and she said, “I have an article due tonight and I have no idea what it’s about. I just procrastinate until I do these things at the last minute.” As someone who really has a bad procrastination habit I took this seriously and tried to talk to her about it. Getting deeper, she confided she had already basically written her articles for the next 3 weeks! It was really weird, why would she pretend to not be writing like that?

  56. Unrepentant snoot

      “… a writer who takes themselves seriously is someone who can clearly articulate the intent of their work, how, ideally they want their work to be read, and why they take issue when someone tries to compromise that intent.” Can we please recast this? The dance between singular & plural in this passage has set my teeth on edge. This could work: ” … writers who take themselves seriously are those who can …” and the rest is fine.

  57. Anonymous

      pretty sure i love darby larson.

  58. Chris

      I wonder what mythical pop cultural heroics have entered the collective bloodstream to make people think that an interview is a good opportunity to demonstrate insouciance about, rather than interest in, one’s work and work habits.  If you think interviews are inherently stupid or shallow; that an interview can’t possibly shed any light on your process or your product — why not remain silent?  It is an option, isn’t it?  Let the work speak; let people decide from that whether you take it “seriously” or not.  There’s no “need” to provide a sideshow in which your own personality serves as an adjunct, guide, or friendly companion to the work. 

      For most writers, the opportunity to submit to an in-depth interview covering one’s entire body of work is rare.  If that body of work has evolved over the last few decades, you’ll forgive me if I say that it would seem to be self-evident that one takes the work, and oneself (if only as the author of that work) seriously.  Sometimes I get the sense that any amount of “seriousness” is too much around here.  But you guys just wait.  I know that a lot of you are young, and, while playing Yoda isn’t my very favorite thing in the world to do, I do get a certain amount of pleasure in saying: you don’t know shit.  In fifteen or twenty years — when you realize that for all the awareness there is of them in the world, all the books and chapbooks and poems and stories you’ve published might as well not have been written — maybe you’ll take a kinder view of seriousness.  That is, if you’re still writing.  And that’s not a put-down, it’s just an invocation of the odds involved.  Do it for twenty years.  Then tell me you don’t take it, and yourself, seriously. 

  59. Franklin Goodish

      serious cant be sitting in air conditioning writing nonsense while my tummy goes bubbly and some hubby pays for electrics.

      NO resulting rants about this?  you got away with something, good sir.

  60. Marc

      I write when my mind is playful and dumb. I edit my work
      when I’m awake and serious. These might be contradictory states, but I’ve found
      them to be necessary in order to craft a story.

      I think writing and editing one’s writing are two unique entities,
      so I take issue with the three excerpts from TPR because they seem to be more
      about editing than the actual act of writing/drafting. For me writing is the initial
      act of putting words down on the page and editing is the process of combing
      over those pages, strengthening and lengthening sentences, working on tension,
      finding the right word(s), etc.

      When I write it’s usually late at night, or at a time when I’m
      exhausted and occasionally after more than a few drinks. I used to sit out on
      my deck and write. This was five years ago. I’d write while smoking a cigar after
      finishing a shift at Wal-Mart, my feet aching from standing on the Lawn and
      Garden lot and my arms scratched and raw from loading pallets of bricks and
      mulch into trucks. I’d sit there, my mind numb from the whole day of pointless work,
      and I’d start to write.

      There’s no muse. Never has been for me. Inspiration is
      pretty nonexistent. I have to stop thinking about the story in order to write
      it. If I think about while in the act of drafting it my brain tears it to shreds
      before word one has been put on the page. It’s not anti-thinking. More like
      low-thought or instinct. Tired thought. It’s playful and often times not too
      serious. It cannot be. Not yet.

      The near stupor filled exhaustion shuts down my anxiety,
      shuts down my inhibitions. I don’t consciously construct a story at this point;
      instead, I start putting into words what I day-dreamed about at work all day. I’ve
      always felt like a voyeur into my own imagination. I never think character x
      does a certain action to character y, resulting in dramatic tension. I just follow
      them around in my head, letting the characters do what they like while I watch
      them from a distance, almost like I am a native informer to the events residing
      in my own imagination. I don’t think of the words or a voice. I do, however,
      think during editing. And I mostly focus on how to tell a reader about these characters
      in a way that doesn’t make them, or myself seem completely insane. Sometimes
      (very often actually) this is too challenging, because the characters’ thoughts
      and actions are so alien that I have to focus on the landscape or objects instead.

      I may shut down a big portion of my brain when I write;
      however, I always edit a story when I’m fully rested and fresh. My mind is a
      live wire when I edit a story.  It’s
      serious, thoughtful inquiry at this point. Usually, I approach what I wrote the
      day or evening before when I was exhausted like a cleaning lady. Sometimes the
      writing is in relatively good shape, but at other times it’s like I’m walking
      into a post-frat house party. I often don’t even recognize the person who wrote
      those initial words, even though I know that it was me. I am two completely separate
      people at this point in drafting a story: the writer who is playful and
      operates with as little thought as possible; and the editor who operates with
      as much intellect that he can muster.

      It’s in this liminal space between my writing-brain (nearly
      asleep) and editing-brain (fully-awake) that a story is crafted. Sometimes the
      two sides of my brain find themselves at odds with one another and the story
      flounders under too much writing and too little editing or vice versus. But
      sometimes to two side mesh well, and these two contradictory states provide
      balance to a draft.

      One thing that I find myself at complete odds with in the
      three excerpts is the position that they take on editing with little to no
      discussion of the initial act of writing/drafting. Each excerpt implies that to
      write one must be fully aware during the act of creation. It’s almost like they’re
      approaching the initial act of writing as though it was a hard science, one
      that requires a serious and conscious method to be followed in order to assure
      a final result. This may be true for editing but not for initial draft writing.
      Reading each excerpt leads me to believe that they write and edit their work simultaneously.
      This has resulted in disaster for me in a story. When I’ve done this I’ve had
      to stop after drafting each sentence and return to it, editing it until it was
      nearly-perfect before going onto the next sentence. I’ve seen people do this in
      workshop, often spending weeks or even months drafting a ten or fifteen page
      story full of amazing sentences yet completely lacking in story because they
      spent so much time tweaking sentences before the narrative was even complete
      that they’re left with a hot, incoherent mess.

      Boyle talks about the need for a stable environment in order
      to write, about being clear headed with every sentence that he writes, but I
      contend that it’s only truly necessary to edit in a stable frame of mind, one
      that is sober and awake, and write in what state fits you best.

      I might be a weirdo though. In fact I’m leaning towards that
      conclusion more and more.     


  61. MFBomb

      Damn good post.

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  63. Darby Larson

      the seriousnesses dont cancel out because they are not being aimed at the same thing. i can be unserious about a thing i am aiming at (writing fiction) and simultaneously be serious about the mechanism with which i am aiming (writing a blog post about fiction).

      i would say more that ‘balls of fun’ and ‘laid back’ cancel each other out. who is telling people that about me?

  64. Darby Larson

      thats not caring about writing, thats caring that the writing becomes a thing. or haha maybe it is literally caring about “writing” as opposed to what is written, as in the physical act and not what gets written. caring about writing in the physical sense only speaks to the caring about its eventual existence and publication, which feels a little icky with ego to me. i feel like i am speaking more toward caring about words regardless of the means of their production. people have weird processes maybe but what those processes produce should be what anyone cares about. that last para you wrote is what gets things so bubbly. “Sometimes it is easier to pretend you don’t care about your writing or
      that you don’t work hard at this writing thing because that seems like
      the cool thing to do as if you are somehow a better writer,” its driving me crazy to keep rereading that. 1) no one has to talk about anything to prove their devotion to anything. 2) i dont think not caring about the physical act of writing and process says anything about a writers love of the written word, which is kind of a vastly more important thing to care about imo. does a writer even need to be aware of their process? cant they just be in the throes of it and then forget it? why do they have to relay their process as somehow important beyond that it was a machine for making what got made. why do i have to care about a machine to prove i care about toothpaste?

      i have the luxury of not taking my writing seriously or whatever that means and i know others dont so i shjould probably never have commented. i dont depend on my writing for money the way others do or want to or for anything other than letting out some fun. i take seriously my day job. writing is my hobby in that light. which is to say its the thing i do without any incentive other than that its fun and regardless of whether i succeed.

  65. MFBomb

      You do realize that the topic concerns interviews, right? You have the luxury not to be interviewed–no one is going to hold a gun to your head and force you to answer questions about your writing for others to read. 

  66. Benjamin Grislic

      I plan on doing just that to Darby, actually.

  67. Darby Larson

      right, but actually the post is about those being serious and not serious. there’s an implication being made in roxane’s post that if i dont answer those interview questions with no gun to my head then im pretending to not care about my writing or that i don’t work hard at this writing thing because that seems like the cool thing to do as if i am somehow a better writer

  68. MFBomb

      I’m not sure where you picked up on that “implication.” Her post seems clearly framed around writers discussing their work in the public domain, from interviews to the Fugue fracas that involved a letter from the writer posted to the journal’s website–and the subsequent backlash from “not so serious” people like you and jereme_dean. 

      I don’t think anyone would accuse you of “not taking your writing seriously.” First of all, no one would even know that you turned down the interview because of the lack of a gun pointed at your head.  Second of all, no one has time to care about your interviews that don’t exist. 

  69. Darby Larson

      dude i’m just continuing the hyperbole you started about gun-to-your-head interviews. im not talking about interviews. my gripe is about the accusation in the last paragraph where the absence of talking about craft is seen to be not caring or being too cool to talk about it or something. an interview is just a vehicle to talk about craft.

  70. Darby Larson

       know what, im going to backtrack and admit you are right about that. roxane wasn’t talking about an absence of talking, rather the talking directly against seriousness from that post. thats true. somehow i got it in my head that we were talking about not talking but we are actually talking about the talking of not talking.

  71. MFBomb

      But dude, “gun-to-your-head” is merely a common figure of speech, not “hyperbole.” 

      I think you’re protesting way too much here. 

  72. Darby Larson

      its hyperbole when its attached to the otherwise civil practice of interviewing writers

  73. Benjamin Grislic

      Don’t listen to MF Darbs I have all the time and not time in the world to care about your not interviews. I care deeply.

  74. MFBomb

      Okay, how about this, Darby:

      “No one is going to whisper gently into your ear and demand softly that you conduct an interview about your work for others to read.”

      Is that better?

  75. Benjamin Grislic
  76. Roxane

      That’s not even remotely what I imply, Darby. The interviews were simply places where I found writers talking about the seriousness of their approach to writing. You don’t have to be able to articulate your process to be a serious writer. I discussed one writer, Purpura, who was able to articulate her process and intent and seriousness, and was derided for that. We all write and think about writing differently. 

  77. M. Kitchell

      Out of curiosity, what age would you cast the average commentator here?  How about contributors, what age would you peg most of us at? I’m not saying I disagree with what you’re saying here, but it seems like you feel regularly obligated to comment in an ostensibly condescending fashion to point out that everybody here is too young to know better.

      (Also if you are not the individual who I have seen leave regular “grow up” posts, I apologize)

  78. Ken Baumann

      No apology necessary!

  79. Darby Larson

      i thought this asidely a little also. i think the average age here might be higher than a lot of people think. everyone should post their age or something.

  80. Darby Larson

      yeah i conceded i was wrong about that implication. absence of articulation does not equal derision of another’s articulation, etc.

  81. deadgod

      The boles will have to be severed close to the ground in order to see all the rings, and that will mean the end of those particular flowers, fruits, nuts, and nests.

  82. deadgod

      There’s no “need”

      To the contrary, there’s no evasion of “personality serv[ing] as an adjunct, guide, or friendly companion”.  Evidence from the blogicle:  Salter, Erdich, Boyle.  – and, of course, Gay.

      the odds involved

      I think what most people find, as they fail increasingly sorely but also comically to avoid their tiny substance and shot-through futility, is that it’s youthful seriousness that wanes as kindness towards it waxes.

  83. deadgod

      To be fair, some of the reaction to Purpura was “derision” not for her “seriousness” – for which she had some support – , but rather, was on account of the positioning of her reaction and/or her locutions themselves.

  84. deadgod

      catching, ain’t it

  85. MFBomb

      Well, honestly, Darby, the idea that you don’t take your writing seriously is pretty ridiculous, based on your work. A writer doesn’t have a style as distinctive as yours without “taking his writing seriously.” 

      Sorry–but I find this whole act of yours incredibly annoying–especially given your obvious talent.  I genuinely like your work. I’m not here to kiss ass, so I really mean what I say.

      But it seems like you go out of your way to conflate a kind of aesthetic playfulness with being “non-serious,” suggesting that for a writer to be “serious” means that he or she has to approach his work soberly at all times, which is just silly.  Most “serious” writers–at least the ones I admire–are playful and irreverent  and I think it’s insincere and disingenuous as hell for you pretend like you aren’t “serious” about these matters in your own work

  86. Sarasoo

      what I meant was pretty seriously GOOD!

  87. Darby Larson

      hello mf. i think i will concede to a little bit of truth in this comment now that its the next day and i’m in the coffee more than the booze. i appreciate that you like my work, that means a lot to me.

      i think maybe my conflation has more to do with my awareness of how little meaning i attach to the end product in terms of “saying something important about humanity” when in my mind while writing i am usually thinking “this is fun and this sounds good and kind of silly to me.” i dont feel like i am trying to say anything serious. i guess i am serious about assemblage in the moment of it, but overall don’t consider that assemblage or craft as something to hold on to in terms of i care about it? or that i need to always approach it fresh and so the less i’m aware of my craft the better. the less i even consider myself a writer the better. i dont know. i feel sometimes that my process almost depends on me not being serious about what i’m writing, or that i need to approach it flippantly in order for it to be magical to me. a sense of seriousness toward craft and writing threatens my process, which sounds weird maybe. i get uneasy listening to people discuss at length the minutia of their craft. i want art to feel as if no one wrote it, as if no human could have possibly, and that adds to the mystique of it, so i dont want to know how it got wrote. it kills something about the magic of it, it sheds too much light on that it got wrote.

      i also think there is another conflation going on here where i am not taking “serious” and “caring” to mean the same thing. i feel like i care about what i write but i dont feel like i take it seriously, or something, or atleast not in the same way i take things in my life seriously. serious means meaning to me. it means i am thinking hard about trying to be meaningful and that i am doing something important here, which i dont feel. i dont feel like im doing something important. maybe i am but i feel like if i start feeling like i am doing something important i wont be able to do it anymore.

      anyway, sorry i annoyed you so much.

  88. Iamnotspikelee

      A lot of this is kind of fucking stupid.

  89. Sara Habein

      I’ve just skimmed some of the comments, so maybe someone has already said this, but I think perhaps people are confusing “seriousness” with being humorless. 

      A writer can say, “Oh, I don’t take this too seriously,” when really what they mean is, “I put the work in, but I find the lack of control after the fact amusing instead of annoying.”

  90. MFBomb

      Fair enough, Darby.  Good post and thanks for the reply.

  91. Marian May Kaufman

      Great post really enjoyed it!

  92. Noah Cicero

      The only thing I take seriously is writing.  It is the thing that sustains me, because it seems like everything just comes and goes, some things take longer to go than other things, but eventually all of it goes. 

  93. Guestagain

      Yes, everything comes and goes, everything disappears, you can only hold on to yourself and your work, sage wisdom here.

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