Filtering by Category: On writing

Author | Reader Counterbalance

In the act of reading, we are to undergo a kind of transformation, such as W. Booth has described in connection with fiction in general: "The author creates, in short, an image of himself and another image of his reader; he makes his reader, as he makes his second self, and the most successful reading is one in which the created selves, author and reader, can find complete agreement."

The wisdom of my characters.

I wish I had the wisdom of my characters. I wish I could source words out of thin air, I wish I could chew on grass and distil wisdom, I wish I could compose a fragrance and die by it, I wish I could speak like a bird, I wish my body could vibrate and sing eternal songs, I wish I could get naked and offer my robe to the hateful, I wish I could walk the nights and talk to the cats, I wish I could paint the face of everyman.

But no, that is not happening.

Why do we need the novel?

The relationship between a reader and a narrator is as intense and emotionally complex as any relationship between that reader and another human being. The slow accumulation of the soul of the other, a satisfying human need, occurs in the turning of pages and the deciphering of life as rendered by prose. The novel provides an intercourse with selves, albeit imagined, but just as real. And as the contemporary self is being obliterated by the continuous fragmentation of attention and time, we need the novel more than ever.

Egon Schiele

Writing from the unconscious

According to Robert Olen Butler, "the nonartist knows exactly the effect they wish to have on the reader before they write a single word." Of the artist he says: “[T]he artist does not know. She doesn’t know what she knows about the world until she creates the object. For the artist, the writing of a work of art is as much an act of exploration as it is expression, an exploration of images, of moment-to-moment sensual experience. And this exploration comes from the nature of the artistic process.”

Shouldn't we all write that way, from the white center inside?

Pissing in the river

I would like to know what the ultimate purpose of writing fiction is. What are the best approaches to producing innovative prose? What is the real value of reality in fiction? Should the novel be clear and open to all? Who are the readers? And in a more existential vein; does it matter to the universe whether I write a novel or take a piss in the river?


The author who tries to expand the frontiers of the human experience can fail. On the other hand, authors of conventional literary products never fail, they take no risks, they use the same proven formula, a comfortable formula, a formula of concealment. Using language for the mere purpose of obtaining an effect, without going beyond what’s expected, is essentially immoral. The ethical approach is found in the search for new formulas.

Of Literature and Pistachios

Most books today land on the reader’s lap, defanged, tamed by the weight of tradition, ready for easy consumption. I prefer when the book does not offer itself to the reader like a shelled pistachio. But when the reader has to do the work of shelling through words, rhythms in prose, and the unconscious in order to savor the book. And it is the alliance between the reader’s effort and the author’s meditations that conjures the best literature.

Questioning All Narratives: Cortázar's 100th anniversary

Cortázar called Hopscotch “a book of questions which continually asks why something is this way and not another way, why people accept that something is given in this form when it could be given in another.” When he wrote Hopscotch, he wanted a revolution to escape from the “prison of language,” the syntaxes that obliges us to say certain things. The philosophy of that book, if there is one, is that one should constantly undermine what seems certain. “Once one denies something, it is possible to continue a chain of negations.” So the imperative of our time is to lay the rules of the game outside the canons of literature. Happy birthday Julio!

Come watch the high-wire act

In an effort to transcend traditional narrative, I need to wield words under the constraints of the novel’s tremendous weight. Consequently, I need to discard many rules to bring forth this vision. In so doing, I may be creating an anti-democratic experience that leaves out the middle-class, or middle-reader, the populous group which has generated the traditional novel. Yes, I explore the inner world of my characters, experiment with nonlinear formats, employ multiple points of view, embrace philosophical constructs, use lyrical language, and make clear and not-so-clear allusions while not explaining everything in an expository way. I may be writing outside of the traditional mold but I am not the first, nor will I be the last one. My challenge, dear reader, is how to manage this difficult and complex task, how to pull off the high wire act without crashing down to the floor. I invite you to watch.

Milan Kundera on the novel. I say nothing but to write on...

More than thirty years ago Kundera wrote: "The novel's spirit is the spirit of complexity. Every novel says to the reader: 'Things are not as simple as you think.' That is the novel's eternal truth, but it grows steadily harder to hear amid the din of easy, quick answers that come faster than the question and block it off." Kundera thought the spirit of mass media was contrary to the spirit of the novel. The novel requires continuity, but the spirit of our time "is firmly focused on a present that is so expansive and profuse that it shoves the past off our horizon and reduces time to the present moment only." Within this system what is a novelist to do? I say nothing but to write on...


Cortázar on the fantastic

“The fantastic breaks the crust of appearance … something grabs us by the shoulders to throw us outside ourselves. I have always known that the big surprises await us where we have learned to be surprised by nothing, that is, where we are not shocked by ruptures in the order.”

--Julio Cortázar

Death of the novel

According to Milan Kundera, "If the novel should really disappear, it will do so not because it has exhausted its powers but because it exists in a world grown alien to it. The novel's spirit is the spirit of complexity. Every novel says to the reader: 'Things are not as simple as you think.' That is the novel's eternal truth, but it grows steadily harder to hear amid the din of easy, quick answers that come faster than the question and block it off."

Borges on the commodification of literature

It’s possible that the fact that literature has been commercialized now in a way it never was before has had an influence. That is, the fact that people now talk about “bestsellers,” that fashion has an influence (something that didn’t use to happen). I remember that when I began to write, we never thought about the success or failure of a book. What’s called “success” now didn’t exist at that time. And what’s called “failure” was taken for granted. One wrote for oneself and, maybe, as Stevenson used to say, for a small group of friends. On the other hand, one now thinks of sales. I know there are writers who publicly announce they’ve had their fifth, sixth, or seventh edition released and that they’ve earned such and such an amount of money. All that would have appeared totally ridiculous when I was a young man; it would have appeared incredible. People would have thought that a writer who talks about what he earns on his books is implying: “I know what I write is bad but I do it for financial reasons or because I have to support my family.” So I view that attitude almost as a form of modesty. Or of plain foolishness.

--Jorge Luis Borges