Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Latest in Etgar Keret, "Creative Writing"

I like when well known / regarded writers take a stab at writing about writing. Lorrie Moore's narrative second-person "How to Become a Writer" is an ought not to be missed kind of read, among stories like these. Handled deftly, they are a fascinating look at the creative process, the writing process in conversation and in workshop, even if / though it's not the "creative process" per se of the author of the fiction itself. And now, Etgar Keret has brought his own offering in the form of "Creative Writing," which appeared in a recent issue of The New Yorker.

Others I've enjoyed in this way are David Foster Wallace's character Rick Vigorous' storytellings in "The Broom of the System" and Will Self's disturbingly awesome "Nonce Prize" which concerns, among other things, creative writing in a prison setting -- and, actually I recall liking the stories within stories more than the primary narrative in novels like John Irving's "The World According to Garp." Even Albert Camus' "The Plague" plays with describing the writing process, when a character becomes enamored to the point of obsession with a sentence he's writing and constantly revising, to wit, "One fine morning in the month of May an elegant horsewoman might have been seen riding a handsome sorrel mare along the flowery avenues of the Bois de Boulogne."

Etgar Keret's "Creative Writing" left me feeling that, for all its many positives, the one thing I wished was also explored here? His characters' writing badly, or at least in a way that better suggested their novice status. Still, though, there's a lot here, and the stories within the story are conceptual oddities in themselves. At outset, the story concerns a couple who's recently experienced the loss of a child. I can't quite recall if this is expressly stated or implied. As recourse, as escape, as coping mechanism / impetus, the man suggests to the woman that she take up something like creative writing. She does and experiences success immediately, come in the form of praise from her instructor and peers. This leads to an odd form of envy in the man. He finds the woman talented, but also inscrutable. Her work is good but leaves something to be desired, he feels. He joins a beginner's creative writing course of his own. The narrative comes full circle. In a glib sort of way, I enjoy feeling the story's moral is: writing is hard, and endings are hardest of all.


  1. I don't know about you, Matt, but when I started this fiction writing thing, I started hitting the books with a passion that only my academic dimwit self could have. Well, most is shit. It's easy to tell you to do some things, but it's not easy to tell you how to do them.

    "You have to find your voice" is as easy as saying "You have to end war, if you want peace. Get countries to get along, you know?"

    "But how?"

    "I don't know. Host a spaghetti dinner or something".

    Anyway, you know what I mean. Except for Donald Maass, who's directly asking questions about your manuscript. Most of those writing advice writers are full of shit. As for known/regarded writers, I find that the more you hit the right notes, the more your keys to success can be narrowed into a tiny, precise digest.

    Here's one of my old posts where I link to many well-regarded writers rules for writing (Original post was in The Guardian). Funny and enlightening. I'm sure you will like.


  2. Excellent, Ben, I look forward to checking out your link. I think it's weird that anyone tries to teach writing in general and especially weird when they try to do it with lists of tips. Could there be anything more subjective than how a person writes fiction? Should there be anything more subjective? The whole point is you make something from nothing. I do like gaining insights and possibly clues from writers I admire about what their process is like. Not so much so I can ape it as I get a better sense of them as people coming from a different place than myself, and in writing, making an effort to be understood / related to.

  3. I don't remember who said it, but some writing coach I came across said: "You have to know the rules to start breaking them". So I think there's a baseline for everybody, but from there writers need to learn how to break free.

    For example, I had a story refused once, because "the main character didn't have resolution". It was the whole fucking point of the story, to illustrate that the character couldn't cope with reality.

    Check out the Ann Enright 10 rules, they are particularly flavorful.