Quotes on Writing

Vivian Gornick, The Situation and the Story: “I began to read the greats in essay writing–and it wasn't their confessing voices I was responding to, it was their truth-speaking personae. By which I mean that organic wholeness of being in a narrator that the reader experiences as reliable; the one we can trust will take us on a journey, make the piece arrive, bring us out into a clearing where the sense of things is larger than it was before.” (p.24) “These writers might not 'know' themselves–that is, have no more self-knowledge than the rest of us–but in each case–and this is crucial–they know who they are at the moment of writing.” (p. 30) “Above all, it is the narrator who must complicate in order that the subject be given life. In fiction, a cast of characters is put to work that will cover all the bases….In nonfiction, the writer has only the singular self to work with. So it is the other in oneself that the writer must seek and find to create movement, achieve a dynamic. Inevitably, the piece builds only when the narrator is involved not in confession but in this kind of self-investigation, the kind that means to provide motion, purpose, and dramatic tension. Here, it is self-implication that is required. To see one's own part in the situation–that is, one's own frightened or cowardly or self-deceived part–is to create the dynamic.” (p. 35-36)

From Daniel Mendelsohn's The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million “I told her that I, too, was interested in facts, of course, that we had started out on this long series of journeys because we wanted to find the facts. But I said that because of what we'd heard on our trips, I'd also become extremely interested in stories, in the way that the stories multiplied and gave birth to other stories, and that even if these stories weren't true, they were interesting because of what they revealed about the people who told them. What they revealed about the people who told them, I said, was also part of the facts, the historical record.” (p. 411) “I did and do believe that if you project yourself into the mass of things, if you look for things, if you search, you will, by the very act of searching, make something happen that would not otherwise have happened, you will find something, even something small, something that will certainly be more than if you hadn't gone looking in the first place, if you hadn't asked your grandfather anything at all. I had finally learned the lesson taught me, years after they'd died, by Minnie Spieler and Herman the Barber. There are no miracles, no magical coincidences. There is only looking, and finally seeing, what was always there.” (p. 486) The book is incredible. Read it.


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