If You Want To Write, Write

by | Dec 10, 2005

Sam Sacks writing in New York Press laments the state of American fiction today.

I was reminded of Narayan’s machine recently while reading the Best New American Voices 2006, an anthology edited by Jane Smiley. The book gives such a desultory vision of the future of American letters that one can only hope its title is wrong. Without ignoring the occasional flashes of verve, the stories included are so monotonous that they seem to have been written by a single person of middling talent. All but one of them are written in the first person; a similar percentage hinge upon the narrator’s difficulties with dysfunctional or deceased members of his or her family, or with ex-lovers. The tone is always confessional and saturated with self-pity. The plot and action are always negligible: one story takes place on a road trip to a presidential birthplace, another while moving apartments, another at a wedding, another while opening presents in front of the Christmas tree. None of this much matters anyway, because the things the characters do are always mundane and largely incidental to their psychological conflicts. From time to time a structural innovation appears to offer an interesting novelty, but under the packaging the same old formula is always to be found.

Even the style of writing displays a numbing verisimilitude. The first-person voice is always a lazily generalized vernacular, jazzed up at significant moments with consciously poetic frills in the exposition.

It should be no surprise that every one of the writers in this anthology have one more thing in common: They have attended writers’ workshops, either in graduate programs or in similarly organized writing conferences.

Writing workshops, for their ubiquity, are currently the most significant phenomenon influencing American literature.

The best advice I ever received regarding the writer’s path, is, “If you want to write, write.” That is, don’t go to school. Write.

[via One Pot Meal]