Some thoughts on what we write about

 Been thinking about this...

There are two schools of thought out there. One is "write what you know" and the other is also that, but it is not understood to mean, "write about your life/lived experience". 

While the latter is self-indulgent and almost always semi-autobiographical, the former introduces the reader to amazing new worlds/concepts/thoughts through the author's force of imagination. (edit: fucked up latter/former in the original)
I'm talking about authors like Umberto Eco, Salman Rushdie, Borges. They pour vast, encyclopedic knowledge through an extensive vocabulary in their stories. Their writing is pretty far from autobiographical in the sense that they approach such a diverse range of topics that even if they throw in bits of personal experience, these are eclipsed by the scope of their stories. 

So here's what I'm actually thinking - at least about myself: maybe I'm just not qualified. 

It doesn't seem to me that it's a matter of crafting a story/plot and then filling it up with research, because that's technically easy -it's a system. You need good enough writing skills, good enough imagination, good enough research skills, and you patch it all together. These are all the airport novel writers, from David Silva to Clancy et al. Some of these (Patterson) even freely admit they no longer write their own books, so there you go
No, it's something else to me; a sense that if I'm not able to rely on a wide array of general knowledge to pick from while composing a story, I won't ever write anything that good, or at least it won't be art. It's like I'm missing an essential tool. 

Which all comes back down to reading and reading and reading. And learning and learning...

I found and shared this a while ago on 200wad (
and it has stayed with me since. While plenty of people might say he comes off as a pretentious "gatekeeper" it seems to me he's only spelling out the truth. 

There's got to be a hustle to all this. 

Is it as easy as, "write and write what you know and you'll pull it off," as if that's how literary magic comes out? It's not magic. It's a grind. Are any of us willing to read an encyclopedia? Are we able to retain any of it, even if we did? And you might say, it's just not that important, but I think it is...It's important because those big books and those stacks of notes, and your bulging, aching brain, which forms the connections that build amazing stories, that's the practice where Coach is yelling at you even when you're showing up and puking at the end. 

I guess what I'm saying is, are our minds open enough? Do we have a full toolset to create our art? Are we really qualified? 

But what do I know. Some of the simplest books make the greatest stories. Though even with The Old Man and The Sea, ol' Hemingway had to know quite a bit about traditional deep sea fishing to pull it off like he did.

Thanks for the article suggestion. Looking forward to reading it. I always like reading people's take on why literary fiction is XX or YYY of Literary fiction.

That makes me wonder. How many of these kind of meta-articles-surrounding-world-of-literary-fiction do you read? I think that often I get introduced to them through people like you. So I get information second-hand. Are you a first-hand consumer of this?

But I do think that our limitation is not the information/knowledge. I do think keystone limitation is narrow-mindedness.

2020-12-26 23:45:14
This came up back when I googled "death of literary fiction", don't think I've read anything like it since. I mean, it says it pretty well. 
2020-12-27 11:23:53
Mmmm. I see it's something you searched. I've never searched this before. What we search reveals a lot about us and hides even more than what they reveal.

2020-12-27 14:59:11
I remember you quoting this on 200WAD.

Rather, do the following: start by buying yourselves the eight volumes of the Encyclopedia of Philosophy, published by MacMillan and the Free Press. Read and metabolize those 2165 pages, bearing in mind that they are just an introduction. Still, at least you will realize that there is such a novelty item as . . . the history of thought!-----

We had been talking -- without commitment -- about how we should read 100 classics.

There's enough in this article to warrant a discussion, one I'm excited to have, But let me know if this doesn't appeal you, because then we won't need to have it.

If you are down, then this comment addresses one topic.

I interpret Mina di Sospirs's primary argument as -> contemporary literary fiction sucks because writers have become incorrectly convinced that their subjectivity is the sole requirement to writing usefully, and further that this sole-indexing on subjectivity is some cognitive dissonance trick to allow contemporary folk to make peace with their insignificance.

I think some, maybe writers of contemporary literary fiction, would misinterpret this article. They might think Mina di Sospirs is arguing that ordinary characters  inherently make useless protagonists when actually what he's condemning is not the characters themselves but the writers who create them. This reminds me of the dogma of guns don't kill people, people kill people

To Mina di Sospirs writing a novel is a vehicle to help writers transcend their baseline reality. He finds it tragic for generations of writers to waste their efforts on simply recreating their existential malaise in the form of writing.

I don't want to write further because I actually want to make sure we're on the same page first. also FYI comments lack autosave so i'd recommend writing this else where and pasting it in.

also FYI, excited for the upcoming Tribes functionality because i'd love to have a space where it's just people who like these kind of discussions so that we can have it with them there instead of having it in the comments like now.

2020-12-27 17:07:08