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Posts Tagged ‘Flannery O’Connor’

Because it is high time I return The Habit of Being to the Oratory’s library, I am removing all the little markers that still linger between the pages. So you are in for another dose of wisdom from Flannery today.

I’m a full believer in writing habits, pedestrian as it all may sound. You may be able to do without them if you have genius but most of us only have talent and this is simply something that has to be assisted all the time by physical and mental habits or it dries up and blows away. […] Of course you have to make your habits in this conform to what you can do. I write only about two hours every day because that’s all the energy I have, but I don’t let anything interfere with those two hours, at the same time and the same place. This doesn’t mean I produce much out of the two hours. Sometimes I work for months and have to throw everything away, but I don’t think any of that was time wasted. Something goes on that makes it easier when it does come well. And the fact is if you don’t sit there every day, the day it would come well, you won’t be sitting there.

She is writing to a teacher, and goes on to say that your “set time” needs to come when you have a fresh mind, before all your creative energy has gone to your students.

And this is why I imagine I won’t be writing much this week while I grade the second batch of nineteen essays. This depresses me, but it’s also encouraging to know now that I won’t get any writing done, because my priorities must be elsewhere.

And now the book returns to its shelf in the Oratory. I shall miss it, this specific, material, concrete book. I fully intend to buy a copy of my own someday, but I feel that this is the copy I should own: the one I have fallen asleep with and cried over and stuck full of little bits of paper, now all gone.

~~~

Bonus quote! On the use of fiction for “propaganda”:

The novel is an art form and when you use it for anything other than art, you pervert it. […] art is wholly concerned with the good of that which is made; it has no utilitarian end. If you do manage to use it successfully for social, religious, or other purposes, it is because you make it art first.

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I appreciate books that make my cry. As long as they’re not playing with my emotions in a cheap way; but while I will sometimes cry for cheesy movies, I don’t often cry for cheesy books.

Or for good books, for that matter. I will get an ache inside, I imagine my face scrunches up in weird ways, but tears aren’t often involved.

I cried when I finished The Habit of Being. In fact, I cried when I read the introduction to the last section, which contained the letters written by Flannery O’Connor during the last year of her life.

Flannery has been dead for 47 years, but I felt a deep sense of loss nonetheless. As I neared the end of the book (which is nearly 600 pages), I found the pull to read it stronger and stronger (at the expense of Things I Should Be Doing, like grading essays and homework). And yet the more I read, the closer I came to the end. Dread of reaching the end, yet not wanting to spend time away from the book–a tough tension to navigate.

I’ve been meaning to blog about Flannery for some time, because she has put so much into words and has touched me in a real way. But this post was just to say I cried, because now she is gone.

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Does anyone know how to spell “workshopping?” It seems to me that 1) this needs to be a word, since “workshop” is used as a verb all the time, at least in MFA programs, at least by me; and 2) there is no other logical way to spell it. Is there? But it doesn’t matter where I type it–Word, Open Office, Firefox–it always gets the squiggly red line.

Anyway. I’m well into the spring semester at this point, and the work is piling up–though nothing “big” has been due yet. Still feel like I’m shaking off “break mode.”

I have been revising a short story I wrote last semester, and I am stuck. (Stuck, actually, at the same place I last blogged about.) So I have been going through the feedback I got from my workshop classmates, their notes in hand and Open Office document open. Ultimately, these notes don’t amount to big changes (at least not so far). Some feedback I dismiss entirely, because it is clear the reader didn’t “get” my story … whether because of different aesthetic tastes, or for other reasons. And that is an important part of workshop: knowing what to listen to, and what to forget. Any workshop ought to help a writer accomplish their aims–perhaps find out what those aims are. Advice that ignores or misses that is not of any use whatsoever. (As good old Flannery would say, “In short, I am amenable to criticism but only within the sphere of what I am trying to do; I will not be persuaded to do otherwise.”)

But even feedback from those who don’t appreciate your story–who, when they offer advice, are trying to make it into something else entirely–gives you another angle at which to view your story, things to consider you wouldn’t otherwise see. And I love reading these letters Fiona made us write each other, which some people wrote mostly as critiques but others just as reactions. After all, stories are written to be read. And they become different stories for different readers. That is the beauty of it; the control and complete loss of control a writer has over her own words. I like hearing how people took it, even if they didn’t get it; even if they hated it. (Yes, one person DID tell me she hated it.)

~~

So we are blogging as part of my fiction workshop this semester with Cathy Day! Possibly some of those posts will make it over here.

I’m not sure yet how far this blog will venture away from “matters more bookish than not,” but I am willing to let it venture other thoughtful places.

I just finished Monkeys by Susan Minot. A good book. I started it yesterday, and finished it this afternoon, much to the detriment of my to-do list. It’s one of those books where there’s more than what you take in on a first read, even if you’re trying to be a perceptive reader. The prose is very spare, which works beautifully, as she is writing about intense emotions. I think I will have to come back to this one again.

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I hope you don’t mind if I share more of the insight of Flannery O’Connor. There’s no doubt she was an opinionated woman. I happen to love many of her opinions. 😉 And I believe she was given the wisdom to understand her gifts.

I even dislike the concept artist when it sets you above, all it is is working in a certain kind of medium to make something right. The material is no more exalted than any other kind of material and the idea of making it right is what should be applied to all making.

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“My room is getting worse and worse. Everything collects on the floor. I can’t put the books in the bookcase very well because I can’t tote them and there ain’t any more room in the bookcases anyway, so there are books all over the bureau and books all over the floor and a large collection under the chair. Every now and then my mother declares that she can stand the sight of it no longer and she and the colored woman assault it and this is an operation that makes me feel I am being sawed in two without ether.”

Good old Flannery! Always nice to know you’re in good company …

(Yes, I am reading Flannery O’Connor’s letters right now–collected in The Habit of Being, which I highly reccomend–and this means I am quoting her all over the place, be it Twitter, Facebook notes and status updates, and here. My respect for her continues to grow.)

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