Joyce Carol Oates: First drafts are hell, final drafts, paradise
March 18, 2019
Be your own editor/critic. Sympathetic but merciless.
I could tell you about the life and times of Joyce Carol Oates.
But they are of no consequence.
Her writing is.
Sure, she is an acclaimed author of more than forty novels and countless short stories. She has won the National Book Award for her novel, Them, and has been nominated three times for the Pulitzer Prize.
But it’s all about her writing, all about the tales she tells upon a harsh and bitter landscape of poverty, violence, and racial tensions.
And what influenced her writing most?
Let her tell you in her own words:
Her outlook on life was molded and sculpted while living in Detroit during the 1960s, a place, she said, that was billed both as the Automotive Capital of the World and Murder City, U.S.A. It was the setting of the 1968 riots, and she wrote that she was unable to ignore the immediacy of drama, social conflict, tragedy, tragi-comedy … the opportunity of realizing first hand a virtual allegory of the American experience. The city of Detroit in its myriad aspects became for me a region of symbolic luminosities: it was itself, of course, uniquely and irreducibly so, but it was also far more – an emblem of American ambition, American delusion, American strife, American hopes, American violence, American dreams gone wrong.”
Her writing is often controversial but always powerful, and provides these words of advice for other others:
- Write your heart out.
- The first sentence can be written only after the last sentence has been written. FIRST DRAFTS ARE HELL. FINAL DRAFTS, PARADISE.
- You are writing for your contemporaries, not for Posterity. If you are lucky, your contemporaries will become Posterity.
- Keep in mind Oscar Wilde. A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.
- When in doubt how to end a chapter, bring in a man with a gun. (This is Raymond Chandler’s advice, not mine. I would not try this.)
- Unless you are experimenting with form gnarled, snarled, and obscure, be alert for possibilities of paragraphing.
- Be your own editor/critic. Sympathetic but merciless.
- Don’t try to anticipate an ideal reader or any reader. He/she might exist but is reading someone else.
- Read, observe, listen intensely as if your life depended on it.
- Write your heart out.
I would tell you more about Joyce Carol Oates, but I can’t.
I don’t have time.
I have to leave now and go someplace where I can write my heart out.
Please click HERE to find my Boom Town Saga novel, Bad Side of a Wicked Moon, on Amazon