Posted by: oneyearbook | April 16, 2009

Two Posts about Margaret Atwood, Post the First

Right now I’m reading Margaret Atwood’s Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing. (I find that I really enjoy reading books about writing right now – they generally, after about 20 or so pages, get me up out of the reading chair and plunk me down with the computer for at least 500 words worth of productivity.)

Anyway she’s going through the process of asking authors to say what writing feels like. “Specifically, I asked novelists, and I asked them what it felt like when they went into a novel,” shes ays. The answers, I was interested to see, overlapped very strongly with a description I gave of the process in a previous post about outlining.

I said “like being in a darkened oil bin” and then compared the process of writing a novel to cave-diving, with the rope you hold onto as the outline.

Her respondees came up with the following: “groping through a tunnel,” “like being in a cave,” “being in a completely dark room, feeling her way.” (There were others, of course, but this gives you a sense of the correlation). Yes, it seems, novelists are together (and yet alone) cast into a deep ol’ pit from which they must imagine a form of escape. The similarity of description is fascinating. Maybe there’s some sort of anthropological explanation: we used to sit around telling stories in caves, with the only light the dying fire, and the memory has remained with us long enough to become somehow associated with the modern form of storytelling?


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