The intimidation factor

how-fiction-worksPeople (and I include students in this category) sometimes ask me why I don’t write; it seems to them that I love reading and talking about literature so much that I must also want to write, or that I would probably be good at it. I just read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and I am reminded why I don’t – it’s the intimidation of all of the great writers I’ve read over the years. Some will say that this is not a good reason not to do something. If anything, those great writers should be an inspiration. Well, perhaps. But to me, right now, I just can’t bring myself even to try to come up with something of my own. The Book Thief takes the cake for me right now in a way that Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace did about 5 years ago. There’s a lot of good writing out there, but not a lot of great writing. John Green’s The Fault in our Stars is good, and it moved me to tears, but it’s not great writing. Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five? Great. One of the best books I’ve ever read about great writing is How Fiction Works, by James Wood. It’s a fantastic explanation of one of the most subtle techniques of fiction writers, and he names the best of the best. It’s probably the most intimidating book I know of both because of the aforementioned naming of the best of the best, and because it’s the best book of criticism I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading (he uses exclamation marks, and it’s not only okay but it works and I like it!) and therefore makes me not want to even attempt criticism of my own.

Okay, so maybe some day. It’s just that every so often these great books keep popping up…

And so it goes.

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