Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Volume Control

In one of the earliest stages of your writing life, you were in competition with yourself to see if the reader within could accomplish more reading than your interior writer.

You were at the time digesting a great deal of material while simultaneously producing a great deal of derivative text, its most significant quality that of sounding something like the person you'd read and been affected by. Your work sounded as much like those you admired as aftermarket watches resemble their actual role models.

You were striving for two stations, being well read and being at the state where everything you wrote found a home for publication. In retrospect, you're able to congratulate yourself for understanding the need for a writer to read and assimilate. In the years to come, you understood the impossibility of being well read, the energy necessary to assimilate and process what you did read, and the excruciating difficulty in writing in a manner that made your output seem conversational.

At this writing, you've been of a mind to revisit authors you admire and continue to learn from, steadfast in your determination to sound like you rather than them. If something you wrote or said reminded someone else of a writer you hold in particular esteem, you'd be pleased but nervous you might be taking on stylistic and thematic traits other than your own.

For the same reasons you can never consider yourself well read (even though you may feel exasperation toward a student who wishes to become a published author), you do not wish to give the impression you are the literary equivalent of a VW Bug, pulled along the highway in the stream of an eighteen-wheel rig. 

William Campbell Gault, a writer you knew as a fan and then as a friend said, "I'd rather be the world's worst writer than a good anything else."  You can never be well enough read to suit yourself, nor can you allow yourself to think of yourself as an emerging writer, struggling to keep from becoming the world's worst.

On that basis, you admire D.H. Lawrence beyond wishing to sound like him or reflect the plangent clarity of his dramatic vision. Instead, you openly aspire to write a document which you will call Studies in Classic American Literature, to which you will append the subtitle, Volume Two (because D. H. Lawrence wrote Volume One).

In your own words and supporting opinions, you will write an opening chapter called "The Spirit of Place," which Lawrence used to begin his study. He went on to write eleven more chapters, devoted to the works of ten other American writers. Lawrence gave Melville two chapters, one for Typee and Omoo, another for Moby Dick.  You will pick six American writers who are women, among them Willa Cather, Louise Erdrich, Francine Prose, Tillie Olsen, and Deborah Eisenberg. You will also pick six American men, among whom you have Mark Twain, Saul Bellow, John O'Hara, Philip Roth as candidates and a rousing internal debate about the likes of Leslie Fiedler, Stephen Crane, James Baldwin, and Walter Mosely.

From the moment you first picked up that book to the time you first stood in the train station at Lamy, NM, at which he debarked, you'd had this notion of writing this book. The way your process works, you've been in a clear sense to you working on it over these years. 

If  D.H. Lawrence is the inspiration for the project, William John "Bill" Evans (1929--80) a significant presence in American jazz, is a persistent assurance your finished result will sound nothing like D.H.Lawrence. As though you could.

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