Sunday, January 9, 2011

Being a Writer

In the Feb, 2011 issue of The Writer, Charles Baxter discussed some of his insights into literary writing. Asked "How do you think new writers are best developed?" he answered, "I really don't know. They're good observers; they read; they don't mind solitude; they remember what people said and did; they're interested in ideas; they try to notice everything; they always feel slightly outside, looking in."

I identify with this list of qualities and attributes, but I see that most of these items are not things you can easily develop or train. Perhaps memory can be trained; some of my writing classes have increased my enjoyment of certain kinds of memories that I had previously repressed. Maybe good observation can be stimulated. Natalie Goldberg's walking meditation seemed extraneous at first, but I can easily recall the smell of the desert earth in Sedona where I had her class, the soft lavender color of the sage flowers, the industry of the many ants, the cracked, tired looking feet of the young woman walking in front of me. Slowing down to look can be taught, it seems.

But reading for enjoyment doesn't seem all that malleable. Neither does comfort with solitude or an outsider view. I wonder, then, if teaching writing is more of an opportunity or a release of a desire than an actual discipline. What do writing teachers teach? Is it just permission to be yourself?