A swim in a pond in the rain
Sarah asked me the other day, “do you actually find you enjoy writing?” Writing is always something I feel I ought to be doing. I feel bad if I haven’t written creatively for a long time. I don’t think I’m a great writer, nor do I really hope to become one if I applied myself and commited serious time to it. Nevertheless, I read a lot, and reading gives you a taste for writing that often wants satisfying with doing a bit yourself.
My friend Tom writes a lot and I respect him for his discipline. He’s taken the task far more seriously than me. He’s read a lot more about writing itself than I have.
We recommend or buy each other books quite often. I gave him a copy of Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, which I really love. I think it’s touching and playful and genuinely unique, so I wanted him to read it. He loved it (my taste was successfully flattered) and went on to seek out the rest of Saunders’s books at the library (another thing I admire him for).
He picked up a copy of A Swim In A Pond In The Rain. Frankly, I had no idea whether George Saunders was a living author or not, but it turns out he is! He’s alive and teaching a writing course at a college somewhere in the states! Anyway, this book is a product of that writng course. It is itself a practical course in writing that uses a number of short stories by great Russian authors like Tolstoy et al, to illustrate things about writing stories generally.
The book is not, however, general. In fact it’s very specific. Its advice is frank and straight-forward. Saunders loves these stories and enlivens them to the reader without losing sight of their construction. The nuts of bolts of how stories work has never been better laid out for me. The role of editing, which I’ve always avoided as too painful and boring, is now something I accept.
After reading the book I felt spurred on to write and Tom felt the same. So we agreed a deadline after which we’d exchange drafts of short stories we’d written, as a motivating factor to get something done and finished. It’s been going well for me. I have a draft that I don’t hate, and I’ve handed it over.