Books -- reading and writing.
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And whatever connections I can make between these chapters of my life.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

So what?

Yesterday my friend Lee, from my late, lamented writers' group in New Jersey, and I had a phone meeting to discuss our writing. She'd given me an assignment to come up with three new essay topics. I'd thought about this and had a vague idea (very vague) of something to write about. She hadn't. But that's OK, instead we talked about writing and how hard it is to come up with endings that mean something. What Ann Hood kept pounding us over the head with at my Writers in Paradise sessions:
1. What happens?
2. Then what?
3. Then what?
4. So what?

So what? This is what really matters in a personal essay. Otherwise, it's just a moment in time, a slice of history, a fun story I might tell my friends and family in an email. Not that interesting to the rest of the world.

So this morning I took out my notes from that conference and reread Day 1 with Stewart O'Nan, and I stopped at this quote:
"Start big, finish big, in the middle go as deep as you can."
He was quoting short story writer Lorrie Moore but the same applies to any good writing.
Figuring out those endings, though, that's the hard part about writing personal essays. I said that to Lee yesterday and she laughed. What? she tells me, Did you forget writing's supposed to be hard?

Then I kept reading my notes from O'Nan's lecture and he said the same thing. Writing is hard work. But he also said we need to learn about writing from reading- reading best sellers, poetry, great fiction and bad fiction. So that's the fun part. The reading. Today I'm reading every personal essay in my vast files and figuring out the So What.
Otherwise, I think I could ask another question about these proposed essay topics of mine:
Who Cares?


Anne said...

Hi Augusta --

I've learned that if I wait until I figure out the ending, I don't write very much. But if I start writing -- and keep writing even if I'm not sure where I'm going -- eventually the ending makes itself known.

What's that quote by Goethe -- "Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it."

NB: It's very questionable whether Goethe actually wrote that (see or this from which it was supposedly taken:

"“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

Regardless of the source, I have found it to be helpful advice. So get started! Keep going! Keep going some more! You'll get there!!!

Augusta Scattergood said...

Thanks, Anne. Just what I needed. And if you can quote Goethe, I guess I'll paraphrase The Little Engine That Could: I think I can, I think I can. And the next thing we know, we're over the mountain top.
Just begin already! Good advice and I've already taken it.