As part of my current obsession with Flannery O’Connor, I recently finished the volume of her collected letters, The Habit of Being.
Her letters were fascinating, and among other thing, included some interesting advice and observation about writing. O’Connor was a very idiosyncratic persion, and this advice is idiosyncratic, which makes it more interesting than a lot of writing tips that I see collected.
1. “Try arranging [your novel] backwards and see what you see. I thought this stunt up from my art classes, where we always turn the picture upside down, on its two sides, to see what lines need to be added. A lot of excess stuff will drop off this way.”
2. “I can discover a good many possible sources myself for Wise Blood but I am often embarrassed to find that I read the sources after I had written the book.”
3. “I suppose I am not very severe criticizing other people’s manuscripts for several reasons, but first being that I don’t concern myself overly with meaning. This may be odd as I certainly believe a story has to have meaning, but the meaning in a story can’t be paraphrased and if it’s there it’s there, almost more as a physical than an intellectual fact.”
4. “I’m a full-time believer in writing habits…You may be able to do without them if you have genius but most of us only have talent and this is simply something that has to be assisted all the time by physical and mental habits or it dries up and blows away…Of course you have to make your habits in this conform to what you can do. I write only about two hours every day because that’s all the energy I have, but I don’t let anything interfere with those two hours, at the same time and the same place.”
5. “That is interesting about your reading some Shakespeare to limber up your language before you start; though I think that anything that makes you overly conscious of the language is bad for the story usually.”
6. “It might be dangerous for you to have too much time to write. I mean if you took off a year and had nothing else to do but write and weren’t used to doing it all the time then you might get discouraged.”
7. “This may seem a small matter but the omniscient narrator NEVER speaks colloquially. This is something it has taken me a long time to learn myself. Every time you do it you lower the tone.”
8. “I know that the writer does call up the general and maybe the essential through the particular, but this general and essential is still deeply embedded in mystery. It is not answerable to any of our formulas.”
A good sense of humor is a huge help when you’re faced with someone who is annoying you. If you’re struggling with someone who has written a passive-aggressive note directed at you, perhaps fantasizing about posting that note on the Passive Aggressive Notes website would cheer you up. For your happiness’s sake, I wouldn’t recommend actually POSTING a note there, but it sure is fun to read them.
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