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Posts tagged "george saunders"

Dec 06, 2013
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It’s a cycle. You start a story, and it’s stupid. You don’t have any ideas. You’re washed up. Finished. And then you get a sliver of an idea, but it’s kind of dumb. Ugh. Then you start working it, and it becomes, oh, maybe. Alright. Yeah, I am going to finish this story. I did finish it! It’s not terrible! [Then] you don’t have any ideas. Is that what life is? It’s just a series of enacting the cycle. Lately, it’s become kind of wonderful to say, ‘Yeah, so now I’m at the point where I don’t have any ideas. Is is a crisis? No, it’s not a crisis. You’ve been here before. And maybe even you could enjoy that moment when you’re bereft of ideas… The goal would be to keep enacting that [cycle], live to 190, and put the period on the best story ever.

Dec 02, 2013
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Any claim I might make to originality in my fiction is really just the result of [my] odd background: basically, just me working inefficiently, with flawed tools, in a mode I don’t have sufficient background to really understand. Like if you put a welder to designing dresses.

Aug 05, 2013
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Success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it.

Jul 26, 2013
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Tobias Wolff: “An artist was someone who worked, not some special being exempt from the claims of ordinary life.”

There’s a fantastic Paris Review interview with Tobias Wolff that has way too many great bits, but some of which I had to archive here.

On patience as a virtue:

I don’t have a lot of advice to give. The one thing I would say to a young writer who wanted counsel is to be patient. Time, which is your enemy in almost everything in this life, is your friend in writing. It is. If you can relax into time, not fight it, not fret at its passing, you will become better. You probably won’t be very good at the beginning, but you will become better, and eventually you may actually become good. But it doesn’t help to be afraid of time, or to measure yourself against prodigies like Conrad or Crane or Rimbaud. There’s always going to be somebody who did it better than you, faster than you, and you don’t want to make comparisons that will discourage you in your work. In fact, most fiction writers tend to graybeard their way into their best work.

On obligations and compromises that supposedly take away from an artist’s work:

I find that all the best things in my life have come about precisely through the things that hold me in place: family, work, routine…

…It’s the gravity of daily obligations and habit, the connections you have to your friends and your work, your family, your place— even the compromises that are required of you to get through this life. The compromises don’t diminish us, they humanize us—it’s the people who won’t, or who think they don’t, who end up monsters in this world.

On the self-destructive and self-pitying impulses of many artists:

[T]here is an ancient disaffection between artists and the institutions they see as their antagonists, the status quo. There’s an offended sense of dignity at work in them, and also a tremendous temptation to self-pity and self-indulgence. And the American version of artist outlaw is very, very heavy on the self-indulgence. The self-pity of being a writer or an artist has been a sovereign excuse for all kinds of baloney. You know, All the sufferings I endure and the terrible things I do to my wife and children are because I’m an artist in this philistine America.

Here’s George Saunders: on his former teacher:

“Toby was the first great writer I ever met and what the meeting did for me was disabuse me of the idea that a writer had to be a dysfunctional crazy person,” Saunders said. “Toby was loving, gentle, funny, kind, wise — yet he was producing these works of great (sometimes dark) genius. It was invigorating to be reminded that great writing was (1) mysterious and (2) not linked, in any reductive, linear way, to the way one lived: wild writing could come from a life that was beautifully under control. Watching him, I felt: O.K., nurture the positive human parts of yourself and hope they get into your work, eventually.”

If you haven’t read Wolff’s work and you like short stories, check out The Night In Question, if you like novels, try Old School, if you like memoir, read This Boy’s Life.

Filed under: writing

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A work of art is something produced by a person, but is not that person — it is of her, but is not her. It’s a reach, really — the artist is trying to inhabit, temporarily, a more compact, distilled, efficient, wittier, more true-seeing, precise version of herself — one that she can’t replicate in so-called ‘real’ life, no matter how hard she tries. That’s why she writes: to try and briefly be more than she truly is.

Feb 20, 2013
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One of the great under-narrrated pleasures of living: long-term fidelity & love.
George Saunders, on being married for 25 years

Jan 26, 2013
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George Saunders, Tenth of December

Kevin McFarland at the Onion nailed it:


  [T]he most compelling reason why Saunders doesn’t need to bother with a novel comes not from literature, but from standup comedy. Call it the Mitch Hedberg argument: “I’m a standup comedian. I got into comedy to do comedy, which is weird, I know. But when you’re in Hollywood and you’re a comedian, everybody wants you to do other things besides comedy. They say, ‘All right, you’re a standup comedian. Can you act? Can you write? Write us a script.’ They want me to do things that’s related to comedy, but not comedy. That’s not fair. It’s as though if I was a cook and I worked my ass off to become a good cook, and they said, ‘All right, you’re a cook—can you farm?”


There’s a touching nod to this in the acknowledgements when Saunders thanks his agent:


  Esther Newberg, for her tireless guidance and friendship these last sixteen years, during which she has given me the great gift of making me feel that all I had to do was write as well as I could, and she would take care of the rest, which she has, with incredible discernment and energy.


Filed under: George Saunders

George Saunders, Tenth of December

Kevin McFarland at the Onion nailed it:

[T]he most compelling reason why Saunders doesn’t need to bother with a novel comes not from literature, but from standup comedy. Call it the Mitch Hedberg argument: “I’m a standup comedian. I got into comedy to do comedy, which is weird, I know. But when you’re in Hollywood and you’re a comedian, everybody wants you to do other things besides comedy. They say, ‘All right, you’re a standup comedian. Can you act? Can you write? Write us a script.’ They want me to do things that’s related to comedy, but not comedy. That’s not fair. It’s as though if I was a cook and I worked my ass off to become a good cook, and they said, ‘All right, you’re a cook—can you farm?”

There’s a touching nod to this in the acknowledgements when Saunders thanks his agent:

Esther Newberg, for her tireless guidance and friendship these last sixteen years, during which she has given me the great gift of making me feel that all I had to do was write as well as I could, and she would take care of the rest, which she has, with incredible discernment and energy.

Filed under: George Saunders

Jan 15, 2013
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Dr. Seuss, The Sneetches


  I said, “I do not fear those pants
  With nobody inside them.”
  I said, and said, and said those words.
  I said them. But I lied them.


(via George Saunders’s favorite kids books)

Dr. Seuss, The Sneetches

I said, “I do not fear those pants
With nobody inside them.”
I said, and said, and said those words.
I said them. But I lied them.

(via George Saunders’s favorite kids books)

Jan 09, 2013
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On selling out, or, “Someone had to pay for all that Christmas confetti.”

For some people, “selling out” isn’t just doing a commercial1, it’s wanting to expand your audience, period.

Robin Sloan linked to this spot in the NYTimes profile of George Saunders and wrote, “Every fiction writer should be thinking this way.”

I want to be more expansive. If there are 10 readers out there, let’s assume I’m never going to reach two of them. They’ll never be interested. And let’s say I’ve already got three of them, maybe four. If there’s something in my work that’s making numbers five, six and seven turn off to it, I’d like to figure out what that is. I can’t change who I am and what I do, but maybe there’s a way to reach those good and dedicated readers that the first few books might not have appealed to. I’d like to make a basket big enough that it included them.

I got in a Twitter spat (well documented over at io9) defending the quote, and I really don’t want to rehash it here, but basically what I’ve (finally?) realized is that all my disagreements about art these days tend to come down to whether the people I’m talking to believe that “real” art is only something that you make for yourself without any considerations of how it will go over with an audience.

It’s refreshing to find someone at Saunders’ level at his point in his career wanting to expand his audience rather than just shrugging his shoulders and saying, “I’m doing my thing, if the dumb masses don’t get it, then that’s their fault. Fuck ‘em, I’m keeping it real.” As @meaghano put it, not simply dismissing those you’ve failed to reach with “false preciousness/grandiosity.”

As Saunders says, “A writer understands his work as something that originates with him but then, with any luck, gets away from him.”

The idea that “real” artists only make the work for themselves (take it or leave it, world!) is not only wrong, it’s boring.

We not only need to stop worrying about selling out, we need to be open to the idea that the artist thinking about audience, or, god forbid, seeing what he does as a collaboration with his audience, under the right circumstances, can actually improve the work, or get him someplace different, or more interesting.

Filed under: selling out, audience


  1. Title courtesy Sufjan Stevens defending his decision to license a song to Red Bull

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A writer understands his work as something that originates with him but then, with any luck, gets away from him.
George Saunders, who says the role of fiction is to “transfer energy from writer to reader”
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