Friday, April 15, 2016

Look at this

Here's another quote I wanted to remember from Why We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature, ed. by Meredith Maran. This one is fromJames McBride:

"You don’t write it to show how smart you are or how dumb they are. You’re trying to share from a sense of humbleness."

It is in the same ballpark as this one from Darin Strauss in the same book:

"If nonfiction is any good, it has to be harder on the protagonist than on anybody else."

I think these quotes apply not only to memoir but to fiction as well, and they dovetail with the advice not to protect your characters too much. There's a vulnerability in sharing a story. Reading the written word is in some ways an intimate act; it's like a whisper in the ear. "Look what I discovered," the writer tells the reader, not in a boastful way, but in the way one person might call another to a window to see a rainbow, a tornado, a falling star. Look at this amazing world we live in; this scary, funny, perplexing, beautiful, horrifying, sweet, mysterious world.


  1. I'd like to share an autobiographical work someday. In order to be successful at it, I need to be somewhat emotionally removed from certain events I'd experienced. Otherwise I think I'd lose readers with my angry ranting, even if I have every reason to be angry and ranting.

    1. A couple of the writers talked about that--how we need perspective, understanding, before we can approach certain aspects of our lives on the page.