There’s an old Taoist story about a farmer whose horse ran away. His neighbors on hearing this came to him and said, sympathetically, “Such bad luck!”
“We’ll see,” the farmer replied.
The next day the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “So wonderful!” the neighbors exclaimed.
“We’ll see,” the farmer said.
Then the farmer’s son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown off, and broke his leg. The neighbors offered their sympathy for his misfortune. Continue reading
New writers are often surprised to learn that the main drama of memoir is not what happened in the past but what happens when we consider the past and allow ourselves to be changed by the consideration. “What happened to the writer is not what matters,” Vivian Gornick writes in The Situation and the Story. “What matters is the large sense that the writer is able to make of what happened.”
In other words, memoir is a discourse with memory. It is conversation between past and present—the self you were and the self you’ve become. This sense of exchange happens in fiction as well and is why Nathanial Hawthorne called writing an “intercourse with the world.” Continue reading
Over my years of teaching writing I’ve had hundreds of people ask me, “Is this writing good enough?” This question shows up in different forms—“Is it publishable?” “Do I have talent?” “Should I keep going?” But it’s inevitable. I’ve yet to work with a writer (or meet any artist, for that matter) who didn’t ask it.
For a moment I’m always tongue-tied. Good enough for what? And why do they ask me? I’m just someone who has stubbornly written long enough and been lucky enough to have a few books published. Continue reading