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In this anthology, 26 writers illuminate the motivations at the heart of their creative lives in original essays that are as surprising and varied as their fiction. The contributors include Pat Conroy, Norman Mailor, Rick Moody and David Foster Wallace.


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In this anthology, 26 writers illuminate the motivations at the heart of their creative lives in original essays that are as surprising and varied as their fiction. The contributors include Pat Conroy, Norman Mailor, Rick Moody and David Foster Wallace.

30 review for Why I Write: Thoughts on the Craft of Fiction

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    Great pieces in here by David Foster Wallace, Denis Johnson, William T. Vollmann, and a bunch of others. The Joy Williams essay, "Uncanny the Singing That Comes from Certain Husks" is one of my favorite pieces of nonfiction by anyone, ever. Great pieces in here by David Foster Wallace, Denis Johnson, William T. Vollmann, and a bunch of others. The Joy Williams essay, "Uncanny the Singing That Comes from Certain Husks" is one of my favorite pieces of nonfiction by anyone, ever.

  2. 5 out of 5

    C.G. Fewston

    Why I Write (1998) edited by Will Blythe is a great collection of essays for any writer at any stage of his/her craft and career. On the side of a snowy mountain in Santa Fe, New Mexico an eight-year-old boy was abandoned by his elder brother and sister for more daring slopes than the practice lift. The boy cried until the utmost instinct of all life made him realize that he was going to freeze to death if he remained where he was. He sought refuge, warmth, a blanket, a hug. Managing the clunky Why I Write (1998) edited by Will Blythe is a great collection of essays for any writer at any stage of his/her craft and career. On the side of a snowy mountain in Santa Fe, New Mexico an eight-year-old boy was abandoned by his elder brother and sister for more daring slopes than the practice lift. The boy cried until the utmost instinct of all life made him realize that he was going to freeze to death if he remained where he was. He sought refuge, warmth, a blanket, a hug. Managing the clunky skis over to a café he stood outside motionless, watching the guests remove their skis and enter. Upon stepping through the doorway the boy saw a large, merry family gathered at a table. Could it be his family had been there the whole time to welcome him to safety and laughter? Absolutely not. Then the boy realized the second cold fact of his sad, little life. He had no money. Sure, his parents had cash. But in his pockets remained nothing. Not even precious lint. And then he saw it. A remarkable sight to see at such a young age: a couple sat over hot coffee by an icy window, filled with shadows passing along in silence. The blond-haired man, probably in his mid-thirties, wore a brown cardigan and leaned on the table with his elbows as he stared at his companion, a brunette in a gray sweater that fed up and around her neck like arms of a small child fretting release. She was not looking at him but at her hands. They did not speak but shared something, a knowledge of the most important kind. And between them the steam of the coffee rose into absence. Then the boy knew what he wanted. More than warmth, more than food, more than money, more than safety, more than life, more than anything he wanted to tell their story to the world, and he wanted to do it as a writer. I found my mother after I left that beautiful place in the café. A figure slid over the world with arms wide and caught me where I had returned to the last place I knew where to look. My tears had been frozen for an hour. “In the end,” writes James Salter, “writing is like a prison, an island from which you will never be released but which is a kind of paradise: the solitude, the thoughts, the incredible joy of putting into words the essence of what you for the moment understand and with your whole heart want to believe” (Blythe 40). And as an unpublished, unread, unknown writer I can look once more and know I am not alone. Why I Write: Thoughts on the Craft of Fiction, edited by Will Blythe, is a wonderful collection of writers who bare their souls to express their great love for writing, and who share a kindred spirit. But the real question is: why do writers torture themselves with solitude, silence, silentium? And I was surprised to find that many writers in this vocation expressed what I have lived secretly with for the past two decades: that writing is a world, a pleasure, and a gift that has a purpose. Writing is a world unto itself and demands attention. Pat Conroy writes in “Stories”: “I long for that special moment when I take off into the pure, oxygen-rich sky of a sentence that streaks off into a night where I cannot follow, where I lose control, when the language seizes me and shakes me in such a way that I feel like both its victim and its copilot” (Blythe 50). Often I have spent hours in a trance lost to my words only to awake to find another world before me on the page. It was as though I allowed myself to become a doorway, a vehicle, much like Conroy, into another realm and once there the world had something important to say. Writing is a pleasure. In “Writing and a Life Lived Well: Notes on Allan Gurganus” Ann Patchett writes, “But there can also be great beauty. If that’s the way you want to play the cards, all of the struggle and loneliness of the job can be made into joy. We chose this, after all, we write because we wanted to do it more than anything else, and even when we hate it, there is nothing better” (Blythe 68). Lee Smith adds to this discussion in “Everything Else Falls Away”: “For me, writing is a physical joy. It is almost sexual—not the moment of fulfillment, but the moment when you open the door to the room where your lover is waiting, and everything else falls away” (Blythe 134). To much shock of listeners in writing workshops, I, like Smith, often refer to writing as a lover, and the experience one has with a lover, because I know not a deeper sense to express such a truly special joy, a pleasure that in the end desires commitment and sacrifice. Writers know of this great beauty, even as far back as John Keats and John the Baptist, and the world will continue to listen to such forms of grace, because writing is an art and a gift for all of mankind and should be done responsibly. Writing is a gift with a purpose. Jim Harrison in “Why I Write, or Not” explains: You continue under the willful illusion that the world is undescribed, or else you need not exist, and you never quite tire of the bittersweet mayhem of human behavior. Except, of course, for the fatigue brought on by our collective behavior, both political and economic, the moral hysteria we are currently sunken in. Last May without an inkling I found myself saying in a French interview that we are becoming a Fascist Disneyland. This is seeping into our fiction and poetry in the form of a new Victorianism wherein a mawkish sincerity is the highest value… In any culture, art and literature seem terribly fragile, but we should remember that they always outlive the culture (Blythe 148,154). In A Farewell to Peace, a novel I am currently working on about Iran in the 1970s under the Shah, “mawkish sincerity” is a form that I have tried, without success, to incorporate into my writing because it fits well with these modern times, especially in an America, riddled by political correctness and a poor economy, heading to its own possible demise, much like the glorious land of Iran before 1979, the year of my birth. Nevertheless, the “mayhem of human behavior” is what must be responded to, just like Ernest Hemingway writing For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) against Fascism and exposing the truth behind the Spanish Civil War. George Orwell would also respond to Fascism in his classic dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), inspired partly “by the meeting of the Allied leaders at the Tehran Conference of 1944” where he believed “Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt consciously plotted to divide the world” (McCrum Web). In his own essay titled “Why I Write” Orwell confessed: Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s personality. Good prose is a windowpane (Web). Writers write to feed that demon-babe who cries out from the misery the world has inflicted upon it. Hemingway and Orwell wanted to use their gifts to help change the world for the better. And the world, I believe, is glad they did. Why do writers write when they are faced with the insurmountable unlikelihood that they will ever be published, let alone noticed, especially if they, in this age, do not have enough Twitter or Facebook followers? My answer: because if these writers could not write they would literally die, because writing to them is the love that feeds their oxygen, because it sustains their aesthetic hearts during a death struggle with words, because in the moment of sharing a gift in great expectation that, one glorious day, the world would be inspired to peace and perfection is a reason worth writing for. But the life of a writer can be a splendid thing. Ann Patchett wrote of how her friend, Lynn Roth, visited her and Allan Gurganus. Upon the leaving, Lynn told Allan how “he had the most remarkable quality of life she had ever seen” and he replied, “I never for a moment imagined that it would be any other way” (Blythe 68). Nor have I. Works Cited Blythe, Will, ed. Why I Write: Thoughts on the Craft of Fiction. New York: Back Bay Books, 1999. Print. McCrum, Robert. “The Masterpiece that Killed George Orwell.” The Observer, The Guardian.co.uk, 10 May 2009. Web. 24 July 2012. Orwell, George. “Why I Write” (1946). Orwell.ru. 21 May 1997, mod. 24 July 2004. Web. 24 July 2012.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jazz Castañeda

    A decent enough read. If you're a writer, there are moments where one might feel an intense kinship with these essayists. For example, in moments of creative self pity and whatnot. But all in all, the book doesn't particularly feel like a remarkable collection of work. A decent enough read. If you're a writer, there are moments where one might feel an intense kinship with these essayists. For example, in moments of creative self pity and whatnot. But all in all, the book doesn't particularly feel like a remarkable collection of work.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    Why I write? It's a question you could ask any writer and the answer would be worth reading. I think that was editor Will Blythe's idea when he put this book together. Many authors reply, in their own way, that they have to write, the same way that people who read are always reading something. Writers have beasts or monsters or ideas inside them that only come out in writing. David Foster Wallace's description of an unfinished story as a deformed infant that he has to love and protect is disturb Why I write? It's a question you could ask any writer and the answer would be worth reading. I think that was editor Will Blythe's idea when he put this book together. Many authors reply, in their own way, that they have to write, the same way that people who read are always reading something. Writers have beasts or monsters or ideas inside them that only come out in writing. David Foster Wallace's description of an unfinished story as a deformed infant that he has to love and protect is disturbing yet memorable. I most enjoyed the essays by Ann Patchtt, Elizabeth Gilbert, Mark Richard, Pat Conroy and Mary Gaitskill. The essay by Joy Williams was over my head. Maybe I read it too late at night. Stephen Wright's "contribution" was questionable. I clearly missed the point on that one. But I really appreciated the authors who shared their deepest memories and motivations regarding their greatest gift, their ability to write.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    highly recommended to anyone who writes. not only incredibly inspirational, but also quite entertaining and insightful. some people may walk away feeling inadequately prepared for the writing life, as i did after reading some of these anecdotes. but many of these essays do beautifully illustrate the compulsion to create art, and the sacrifices that so often must be made. thom jones' essay here is especially compelling -- i find myself returning to it time and time again. highly recommended to anyone who writes. not only incredibly inspirational, but also quite entertaining and insightful. some people may walk away feeling inadequately prepared for the writing life, as i did after reading some of these anecdotes. but many of these essays do beautifully illustrate the compulsion to create art, and the sacrifices that so often must be made. thom jones' essay here is especially compelling -- i find myself returning to it time and time again.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kara Vaneck

    I have thought about writing. Really. I've thought about the poverty and destitution that it would surely entail. This book made me think about it harder. It actually made me crave a writer's existence- full of ideas and void of cash. Remember that this review is coming from a person that finds ant hills motivational. I have thought about writing. Really. I've thought about the poverty and destitution that it would surely entail. This book made me think about it harder. It actually made me crave a writer's existence- full of ideas and void of cash. Remember that this review is coming from a person that finds ant hills motivational.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany

    I powered through this one for a school requirement. There were a few essays that I liked. There were a few moments of inspiration. But overall, it was work, and it wasn't a book I would have finished on my own if it weren't a required read. I powered through this one for a school requirement. There were a few essays that I liked. There were a few moments of inspiration. But overall, it was work, and it wasn't a book I would have finished on my own if it weren't a required read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    I've been reading this one slowly, the only way I can. When so many authors have something to say about why they write, you can only look at so many at a time. I like to read an essay or two between other books I'm reading. I've been reading this one slowly, the only way I can. When so many authors have something to say about why they write, you can only look at so many at a time. I like to read an essay or two between other books I'm reading.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    There were a lot of different opinions, many were valid, but many just seemed like wasted space, like even the author didn't believe what they were saying. I will keep it on my shelf, with the sticky notes intact to mark pages where I found the most insight. There were a lot of different opinions, many were valid, but many just seemed like wasted space, like even the author didn't believe what they were saying. I will keep it on my shelf, with the sticky notes intact to mark pages where I found the most insight.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    So many highlights in this collection of essays. Mine were Thom Jones, Elizabeth Gilbert, Mary Gaitskill and Mark Richards.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jill Dater

    Writers writing about why they write. It's like a dog eating it's own tail. There were some witty stories in here but overall I wasn't too impressed. Writers writing about why they write. It's like a dog eating it's own tail. There were some witty stories in here but overall I wasn't too impressed.

  12. 5 out of 5

    rogue

    Some surprises, but a lot of these essays were simply written for $500.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Therrien

    I think the rating system says it all for this one. Many of the essays rambled on. It might have been better had it not been required reading for my MFA.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Marianna

    I didn't actually read every entry, but the ones I did read were an interesting look at the reasons different authors write. I didn't actually read every entry, but the ones I did read were an interesting look at the reasons different authors write.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Oriana

    Whoa, anything with both Vollmann and Wallace has got to be mind-blowingly swell. Hmmmm. Does a sentence like that make me unbearably pretentious? Whoa, anything with both Vollmann and Wallace has got to be mind-blowingly swell. Hmmmm. Does a sentence like that make me unbearably pretentious?

  16. 4 out of 5

    Todd

    At its best, it was like a writer giving you a good answer at the bar after a day's set of convention workshops. At its best, it was like a writer giving you a good answer at the bar after a day's set of convention workshops.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kendall

    The book is a collection of essays. Will Blythe edited the collection.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jess Tait

    Some very interesting pieces. The last one, by Mark Richard, read like a short story and was thoroughly enjoyable.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Raina

    Disappointing. Many of the essays have their more interesting moments, but for the most part, they were narcissistic and not very impressively written to have be written by such famed authors.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ellen

  21. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn

  22. 4 out of 5

    David

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kayla

  24. 4 out of 5

    Erica Guzzo

  25. 4 out of 5

    Margaret

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kayla King

  27. 5 out of 5

    Liz

  28. 5 out of 5

    Steven Pfau

  29. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Roberts

  30. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    Great book to hear about why other author's write and on advice for writing :) Great book to hear about why other author's write and on advice for writing :)

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