Get Out of the Way!

“If the writing can’t be made as good as it is within us to make it, then why do it? In the end, the satisfaction of having done our best, and the proof of that labor, is the one thing we can take into the grave.” – Raymond Carver

I love that quote because when I write, I am often frustrated at my inability to translate my thoughts in their fullness into writing. I just can’t do it justice. But in trying, we can take satisfaction in our attempt. Moreover, we can create something that lasts. Even if it’s a journal in a dusty box in your progeny’s attic.

Which begs the question, what is worth writing about like this?

I appreciated Lott’s perspective on what really matters in life, and hence what matters enough to write about in Letters & Life. He says, “I saw, suddenly and fully, that a story was about the people involved. I saw that embellishment brought to the table an unwanted intruder: the author… I saw that too many words about people made those people seem smaller.”

People matter most.

But Lott believes that the workers, those who could be classified as the blue collar, working class, those are the people to write stories about. On the contrary, he thinks writing about writers, or others with similarly unstructured occupations perhaps, should take a backseat to the stories of these laborers. I’m not sure why, exactly.

Yes, some of the most powerful stories I’ve read are about people who do hard work and work hard. It’s the classic rags to riches story, or the beauty in the everyday struggles we face. But the category of ‘best story’ isn’t exclusive to the working class. I think a good story can come from anywhere, that it’s the writer’s own background, voice, and passions that dictate the quality of the story. Raymond Carver wrote about workers because of these reasons. Someone who likes nature might write a story about a boy’s adventures on the banks of the Mississippi. Oh wait, that’s Huckleberry Finn.

Anyways, the idea that embellishment takes away from a piece instead of adding to it was solid advice for me. Counterintuitive, maybe, but no less valid. Honestly, if there’s too much description (more than 3 sentences in a row on a good day) I’ll start to skim.

As a writer, you’ve got to walk the thin line. You’ve got to create the scene, but you can’t be the unwanted intruder at your characters’ dinner party. Fair enough.


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