Saturday, June 28, 2008

Seth Reads Josh's Novel and Responds in Shock


Turns out, I just went through your novel draft in a traditional way, lightly editing in places, leaving comments. I didn't want to mess with the language too much because it's really what I love about your writing. That said, read my comments about precision and superfluity--perhaps they'll resonate. Basically, I think your rich language could be made even richer by excising some of the extras you throw in, here and there. For example, you use "that" a lot, and it doesn't always seem to be needed.

How long do you work on a sentence? In my recent story (not the one I sent you) I'd say I've given each sentence at least an hour's worth of thinking. Some of your sentences seem so carefully wrought; but then, in some places, I feel like you're drifting by on talent. It's obvious to me: you are much, much more talented than me. BUT: I think there is a but! The but is that I enjoy writing, a lot. This is a major plus. From your blog, from our correspondence, I assume writing is more tortuous for you, less fun. Why? Can it be fun? It seems like you have a blast writing Seventh Draft stuff. And e-mails. So what's different about the stories?

Actually, I think I have a sense of why you're complaining of writer's block, having gone through something similar a few years ago. I could be way, way, way off base, but perhaps it's in the work itself, the fact that you're setting up a tremendous, daunting project and that you're worried about sustaining your rigor.

Your "novel" is not really that; it's basically, a series of vignettes, loosely tied together by the presence of the narrator's voice. A few things seem to happen, but there's no sincere connections, yet. I wrote eighty pages of a novel once; something somewhat similar. Near the 80th page I found myself thinking, What the fuck am I doing? I'm not even telling any sort of story at all! Sustaining this tremendous, loose sort of prose-poetry is impossibly hard. It's just daunting. Why don't you figure out a story? Go back, edit, cut whatever you need to--make a story!

My suggestion:

Think about how your sentences work in the piece, how each sentence might deliver a reader into the scene, but also represent what’s going on in the story. Think about how a sentence might also contribute a larger meaning to the story; it should echo previous incidents; it should illuminate. I’ve been thinking about this idea in terms of the mundane: how a writer might offer a very simple, but needed expository sentence, while also contributing something else to a story, something larger. You seem to shy away from the mundane. Your sentences are all relatively spectacular. I can't recall any mundane sentences. Sometimes, to make a story, you need to write "And then I took a shit".

Anyway. Phew! Hope these comments spark something for you...


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