MEDITATION ON KURT VONNEGUT: XVI…

September 6th, 2017

There is, I think, a desire among all writers, regardless of their experience, to discover some secret. I have found this to be true in my conversations, my readings of a library of books on How To Write and, most recently, in The Guardian’s My writing day series. No such secret, of course, exists.

Kurt Vonnegut, writing in a letter to his daughter Jane, however, suggests a slightly nuanced approach to the question.

The thing to celebrate is your sweet and melodious voice. The piece about traveling with Nanny across country is a knockout. There isn’t a flaw in it anywhere. And it would be that well-written, even if you weren’t as well-educated as you are. The secret of good writing is caring. —to Jane Vonnegut on 30 October 1974, p. 221

All writers produce shit. We all write badly. Thankfully most of the bad stays in the early drafts and the pages we present to our editors is at least workmanlike. (I did not until this moment know that workmanlike was one word.) What Vonnegut suggest here is that the bridge between workmanlike and good is attitudinal: you’ll never write anything good unless you actually care about what you’re writer.

To pervert a phrase from Congressman Tip O’Neill: All good writing is personal.

We have to care.

Found in my electronic chapbook under KURT VONNEGUT: LETTERS…

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