28 April 2008

Quote of the week (and not just for writers, either....)

If I were allowed to say only one thing to other writers in 2008, speaking both as editor and writer, I think it would be this: If you are truly serious about doing distinctive work that will make its mark, slow down.

A great poem or story or essay is not a line on a vita, a selling point in a job interview, or a ticket to tenure. Any person who writes one great poem or story or essay per year for twenty years will take his or her place on the short list of the finest writers of all time. Slow down. Read voluminously, year after year, both for pleasure and to be reminded of all that you must not do, all that you must exceed, in order to make your special, indelible mark.

-- Stephen Corey, editor of The Georgia Review
in Poets & Writers Magazine (May/June 2008)


Rethabile said...

Excellent advice, this. I think the web, and blogs in particular, have a hand in the speed we're accustomed to today, what with prompt sites and memes and month this and month that...

This is excellent advice, but I think one must first do away with certain inhibitions (blogging comes in handy here) and test their writing guts, before taking the time to slow down.

John K said...

It is very good advice, if you don't take a post-modernist perspective (or late capitalist one, etc.), but he also ought to be telling this to academic hiring committees and people in academe and publishing in general. The more really does equal the better in some (influential) people's eyes; more degrees, more publications, more stuff listed neatly across pages upon pages of a CV. And while a few writers (Oates) are criticized for hyperproductivity, praise is fulsome for those who can manage prodigiousness that doesn't make others look bad, just not as quick. That reminds me of the adage I heard in graduate school, which was that creative writers ought to publish each book they want to write twice, and try to publish both: the first time to try an idea out, and the second to get it right and perfect it. They'd thus have 2 books instead of one, and with the first one innovative and the second one polished. I think we can all find writers who've taken this notion to heart, no?

Dolen said...

I love this advice. When talking about his revision process, Michael Ondaatje proclaimed that "not a word remains" of his first draft when the book is published. For me, I think that to "slow down" doesn't mean to "write less" but to, rather, "revise more."

ReggieH said...

It is interesting how the quote is read differently by different people! And also depending on different 'locations.' By that I mean, I have the italicized part sitting on my desk at work. Here it means (to me) to try to turn against the constant mantra of 'I need it yesterday', to try to plan ahead, to do it right versus doing it right now.

That applies to writing as well (do it right, take your time, revise, send your best work into the world). But also I think it applies to any number of people I've seen who appear to be more interested in being personalities than writers/artists. They want Fame and Fortune without the long period of work and time it takes to become an 'overnight sensation.' The whole false sense of writing/art as being some kind of sprint, something that can be measured or that would pop up in a segment of Entertainment Tonight: "who's up, who's down, who's in, who's out?" This isn't a sprint, it's a marathon, and your only competition is yourself.