Scritch-scratch of blue ink on computer paper.
Ink stains my wrist, the spot under my
lower lip, the button of my cream dress.
Cross out half the page,
start again with familiar
words telling the same story over.
I get a high by deleting without
the backspace key, in seeing both
the replaced and the replacing.
Two stories on the page, words
from before hidden behind solid strike
outs imprinted on every line.
I leave a physical mark on each page, see
the first and the next, already reaching for
another color to uncover the third.
I’m a fan of great quotes. I like to carry them around with me. Most of these quotes I get from the books I read and I write them down into a little black book. Some of these I return to and some just fill the pages. There are a few I’ve collected over the years that have stuck with me. Obviously, John Gardner’s stayed with me, and I thought I’d share a few others here and there.
I’ve read a lot of books about writing. I guess maybe I think that the more I read about it, the better I’ll be as a writer. There are a lot of ways to be a better writer, and there are a lot of things writers do that other people might think are weird or different.
And here is a perfect quote by Sara Lewis, from her Second Draft of my Life:
When I was a writer, I had to explain over and over again that my fiction was not based on my life. People never believed me. No one ever asked if my life was based on my fiction.
– Sara Lewis, Second Draft of My Life
I think most people tend to believe that fiction is based on the life or experiences of its writer. I know that I put a lot of myself into my stories. Sometimes it’s an experience, sometimes it’s a thought, sometimes it’s an emotion. It’s not always fact, though. I don’t write non-fiction. I don’t even take liberties and write creative non-fiction. I took one creative non-fiction in college and just wasn’t very good at it. I prefer my stories made up, so that’s what I do.
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In undergrad, we had two writing professors, one for poetry and one for fiction. Since at the time poetry intimidated the heck out of me (more on that in a future post, I’m sure), my college writing career was “managed” by one professor. This professor happened to be a really big fan of John Gardner, who has written several books on writing. I didn’t care much for Gardner then (though it struck me this morning that it might be past time that I re-read his books on writing and see how I feel now, years later), but one quote of his that stuck with me regardless is this one:
The writer who cannot distinguish truth from a peanut-butter sandwich can never write good fiction.
– John Gardner, The Art of Fiction
Is it really that easy to mix up truth and a peanut-butter sandwich? Of course not. But that’s not the point. The point is that if a writer doesn’t know the truth, doesn’t know truth, and doesn’t use truth spread out (like peanut-butter!) all over her work, then the writer simply can’t write good fiction. Truth must be present in fiction.
But, you argue, fiction isn’t the truth! Fiction never happened! That’s why it’s called fiction and not non-fiction. It’s not reality. It isn’t a memoir or a biography or a historical account of things that actually transpired. Why are you bringing up truth at all? Fiction does not equal truth.
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