Updike’s explanation

Every writer, despite knowing damn well he or she is a writer and that cranking out a pretty good story or chapter or paragraph is the thing topping the list of what would most like to be done today/this hour/whenever for the sake of making life a little more satisfying, every writer, I maintain, will come upon a need to be inspired, subtly or otherwise.

Sometimes the inspiration is nothing more than the answer to this question: why do I want to write?

The answer can be found in a book on writing by a good writer(s), of which there have got to be at least a thousand.  I have a particularly good one beside me. It is titled The Writer‘s Digest Handbook of Short Story Writing, Vol II with an introduction by John Updike.

It suffices to read this introduction to realize that Updike was a genius. I haven’t read anything else by him (yet), which might arguably make me a really bad American (or by counter argument, a wonderful Francophone, since the time not spent reading his work was spent reading you-know-what, and please do not pour any bottles of Moet et Chandon in the gutter outside your house).

How pithy and poignant Updike is: “Fiction was how you consoled yourself in the dark ages before love beads and “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” A revolution sings songs and trashes chain-store windows; it does things in a bunch, and nothing is more antisocial and nontribal than one individual sitting in a quiet room coding make-believe for another individual to decipher in a quiet room maybe tens of years and thousands of miles away.”

“Humility on Eternal Record,” a subsection of the intro, explains the value of every single perspective, so that no writer, reading it, could say, “Why do I think anything I would have to say on paper could be of any value against the mountain of stories and books that have already been written?”  I hasten to warn you–this is heady stuff.  (It is like splurging on a 3.4 ounce bottle of Chanel Number 5 Eau de Parfum.)

To conclude, Updike offers this truth: “Fiction can poison our minds, as it did those of Madame Bovary and Don Quixote.  It extends our world, and any extension is a risk. . . . Fiction offers to enlarge our sense of possibilities, of potential freedom, and freedom is dangerous.”

To enlarge possibilities and sense of freedom, many people travel, take drugs or become workaholics.

And writers write.

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One thought on “Updike’s explanation

  1. Wonderful Updike quote and great post. I’d never thought about fiction exactly this way, but it rings very true. The writer has only so much control of process finally, though being grounded in craft surely optimizes chances for a happy outcome.

    Like

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