Veddy Good, Eh Wot?

Santa brought me this CD. I have been doling out the 30 recordings, allowing myself only one per day. Today, I listened to W. Somerset Maugham, author of one of my all-time favorite quotes about writing: “There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are.”

His seven-minute snippet (recorded when he had pretty much retired) addressed three novels he had thought he would write but, in the end, decided not to. I’m paraphrasing here, but he said it was so much more fun for him to keep the ideas to himself, thinking about them from time to time, rather than commit them to the page. At one point, he said, “When once he [the writer] has written them [books], they are his no longer.”

Clearly, for him, this was a problem. And I can kind of understand it. I remember being in a classroom recently and having an earnest student ask me about the snowstorm in Hattie Big Sky. I could tell I wasn’t answering his question satisfactorily. Finally, I tumbled to the problem: “Did your teacher tell you the snowstorm stood for something?” I asked. He nodded. “I’m not that clever,” I confessed. “It was just a snowstorm.”When people try to make something out of a book that’s simply not there, that is a source of frustration.

On the other hand, isn’t having readers part of the magic? Mary and I get emails all the time from people who are so moved by the story of the Two Bobbies, that they want to share their own pet stories with us. Last fall, I heard Jim Lynch (author of The Highest Tide) speak and was so moved by his observation that “writing is a collaborative art between reader and writer.”

I’m sure W. Somerset Maugham made the right decision for himself. For me, at least at this place in my life, I long for the enchantment of connecting with a reader.

How about you?

No Responses to “Veddy Good, Eh Wot?”

  1. holly cupala

    Honestly, I’m a little nervous about this part – after raising some really big questions and maybe not having satisfactory answers. I guess I will just have to keep walking, and hope for a flashlight. Or a headlamp! And hope the work speaks to people on a meaningful level.

  2. waggingtales

    I heard Jim Lynch speak on bringing nature into writing at 826 last fall, and he was fantastic. Sometimes as I’m revising, my neurotic self asks my writer self questions about arc and symbolism that sound like a reader’s guide, but I just don’t write that way.


  3. Kirby Larson

    Holly, I think Jim’s comment speaks to the heart of your worries: you can only raise the questions with your work. The readers will derive their own answers from it.

    Kim, so sorry I missed Jim at 826. What a kind, genuine guy he is. And, right – leave the reader’s guide for the publisher!

    Jaime, I’d be happy to loan you my present!

    And Jolie, not sure exactly what you are dreaming will happen. . .if you mean connecting with a reader, you already are with your blog!