For the same reason that most businesses fail slowly (by focusing on small details instead of big-picture stuff), most writers can’t get their work better than a certain level of passable mediocrity because they’re “optimizing” the small stuff before they hit on a project that’s worth optimizing. They approach revision by thinking about word choice and commas and cuts and line breaks, but those things can only make a poem or a novel or whatever 1-5% better. A radical revision that completely rethinks the scope or the flow or what have you could make it twice as good.
Tag Archives: Elisa Gabbert
beginnings and endings
I only just now figured out what it is about collections of short stories that turn me off. … I don’t like beginnings and endings in fiction. This is true for novels as well. It generally takes 3 to 4 times as long as it should to get through the first 8 to 10 pages of a novel, given my usual middle-of-the-book reading speed; it’s like there’s this big activation energy I have to overcome, all these additional resources I have to put into figuring out the characters, setting, tone, what’s going on, what’s the style, how do I read this, etc. Then you ease into it and it’s smooth sailing for at least 150 pages. Unfortunately, I tend to get antsy toward the ends of things. I think it’s because I like finishing books; it gives me a sense of accomplishment and means I can start something new. So I rush a little toward the end and miss things; too, I overanalyze them, because writers fret over endings and I’m more likely to question the decisions there and feel like something falls flat or feels false. So there’s a certain amount of dread as I approach the last 10-15 pages of the book.
This is a long quote, because yes! All of this. Although, I don’t know that I’d say I don’t like beginnings per se, but I do find them more difficult to get into / slower reading than middles. Partly I think it’s that when I start a new book I still have one foot in the-book-I-was-previously-reading’s ending. So there’s a transitional phase there.
Endings… well. It’s true I often find endings disappointing. They’re so rarely as good as the rest of the story. Endings are hard. Or maybe I am just super nitpicky.
I have come to the conclusion that the way to read short stories is one at a time, which may seem obvious, but when you’re mainly a novel-reader who’s used to getting in that middle-of-the-book zone where you just buzz from one chapter the next devouring the book, stopping and setting the book aside for a while after you finish each story is kind of an “ohhh” moment. So what with all the beginnings and endings and pausings, it makes sense that story collections are much slower reads for me than novels.
Now that I’ve let go of the expectation of being able to read a story collection like a novel, I’m less reluctant to pick one up. There’s still some hesitation, though, because of all those beginnings and endings. (But then you read a gem of a story and it makes it all worth it.)
Characters aren’t your friends
I really irks me when people critique a book or a movie on the basis of “unlikeable characters” or characters who take morally questionable or reprehensible actions, which is like saying you didn’t like The Poseidon Adventure because the ship wasn’t seaworthy. When you read a book you’re not supposed to evaluate the characters as people, like you’re deciding whether or not to hire them or be friends with them. Characters aren’t your friends and they don’t have to be role models.
It’s as real a form/genre as any
P.S. I’m glad you like my blog. I think I like blogging as much as writing poetry. I know many poets will think that heresy. I always see this sentiment that blogging is a waste of time and we should all get back to the “real work.” But to me it’s as real a form/genre as any: I’m trying to convey ideas artfully. I can do different things on my blog than I can do in a poem, which is why I want both outlets.
Like arguing that you shouldn’t use online banking
So … we should never share anything with a portion of the world that we wouldn’t be willing to share with EVERYONE ELSE? The thing is, Facebook persuaded millions of people to share stuff about themselves under the guise of privacy. If Facebook hadn’t promised its users privacy, many of those people wouldn’t be posting pictures and updates in the first place. This is like arguing that you shouldn’t use online banking, even if your bank guarantees security, because they could take that security away at any time, and that would be your problem for willingly posting account information on the Internet. Or arguing that even though your email account is supposed to be secure and encrypted, Google or Yahoo could decide at any time that your email archives should be public, and you’d be shit out of luck—you shouldn’t have been sending all those private emails over the Web. The Web is inherently insecure!
Without needing my approval
Yes [there is a difference between Facebook and a blog.] In sum: I can read anyone’s blog without needing their approval first, and anyone can read my blog without needing my approval first. I *like* not knowing who all is reading my blog. I intentionally *optimize* it so people I don’t know might find it. That’s how people get book deals, son.
But also, I think blogging is more about long-form writing than short-form sharing (Facebook).
All facade, no scaffold.
Why don’t poems have more ideas? So many poems I read are essentially just descriptions. So you went outside. It was beautiful. Or not. I don’t care how creatively you describe it, if it didn’t trigger any thoughts beyond “Hells yeah I am going to describe this,” it’s not a poem. … Lots of poems I read in the slush, if you took out the description, there’d be nothing left. All facade, no scaffold.