Fracine Prose (2006) Reading Like a Writer.
Posted by celticman on Fri, 19 Apr 2013
This is a delightful book. I've read it a couple of times and while I can't say I now read like a writer I can say anyway with called Prose knows their prose, in the same way that someone called pist knows their...Ok it's a rubbish analogy. This is one of my favourite quotes from Babel:
'I work like a pack mule, but it's my own choice. I'm like a galley slave who's chained for life at his oar, but who loves the oar. Everything about it...I go over each sentence, time and again. I start by cutting all the words it can do without. You have to keep your eye on the job because words are very shy, the rubbishy ones go into hiding and you have to dig them out- repetitions, synonyms, things that simply don't mean anything...I go over every image,metaphor, comparison to see if they are fresh and accurate. If you can't find the right adjective for a noun, leave it alone. Let the noun stand by itself. A comparison must be as accurate as a slide rule and as natural as the smell of fennel...I take out all the participles and adverbs that I can...Adverbs are lighter. They can lend you wings in a way. But too many make the language spineless...A noun needs only one adjective, the choicest. Only a genuis can afford two adjectives to one noun...Line is important in prose as an engraving. It has to be clear and hard...But the most important thing of all...is not to kill the story by working on it. Or else all your labor has been in vain. It's like walking a tight rope.'pp263-4.
I love that idea of rubbishy words sneaking about and hiding. But I think it's all there. Prose's love of words; Babel's love of words. I'm just a babbler myself, but I think the motivation to write comes from a deeper place. I found this in Susan Cain's (2012) Quiet. The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.
Mihaly Cskiszentmihalyi idea of 'flow'. Flow is an optimal state in which you feel totally engaged in an activity...neither bored, nor anxious and you don't question your own adequacy... the fulfillment that comes from absorbtion in an activity outside yourself. 'Psychological theories usaully assume that we are motivated either by the need to eliminate an unpleasant condition like hunger or fear' he writes, 'or by the expectation of some future reward such as money, status or prestige'. But in flow, 'a person could work around the clock for days on end, for no better reason than to keep on working.' (p172)
I think Babel and Cskiszentmihalyi are both saying the same thing here.
Reading like a writer. I laughed at Flannery O'Connor agreeing to her mum's request that she goes to Lourdes in the hope that she'll be cured of Multiple Sclerosis. When she gets there Flannery prays that the novel she's writing will be a success. Only a writer would do that.