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432 pages, Hardcover
First published November 5, 2019
1. Find a subject you care about.McConnell expanded on these themes, drawing on his writing, exemplars from others (including his daughter's letter to a disgruntled customer complaining about the service received from another waitress), and some of his and others' revisions of his work. It can be dispiriting for aspirants who believe that their gods have always been successful.
2. Do not ramble.
3. Keep it simple.
4. Have the guts to cut.
5. Sound like yourself.
6. Say what you mean to say.
7. Pity the readers.
To beAll of the above offered a very human and humane view of Vonnegut. We read what he said when teaching, including his advice to and mentoring of aspiring writers (McConnell and others). He also shared the difficulties, as very few writers only get good news from the get go.
of the Creator of the Universe,
you fool. (from Breakfast of Champions)
You probably met Vonnegut also through reading his books, assigned in high school or college or read independently, depending on your age. If you read Slaughterhouse-Five, the most well known, you also know the experience that drove him to write that book because he introduces it in the opening chapter: as a twenty-year-old American of German ancestry in World War II, he was captured by the Germans and taken to Dresden, which was then firebombed by the British and Americans. He and his fellow prisoners, taken to an underground slaughterhouse, survived. Not many other people, animals, or vegetation did.
“We’ve come to the point where we’re more interested in looking at the scrolls of Kerouac than reading Kerouac. The same with Hemingway’s home in Key West.” Fetishism of famous writers, he suggested, occurs because “it’s such heavy-lifting to actually read books.”
Some reviewers dismissed Kurt Vonnegut’s writing for being too simple. John Irving criticized Vonnegut’s critics. They think, Irving wrote, that “if the work is tortured and a ghastly effort to read, it must be serious,” whereas “if the work is lucid and sharp and the narrative flows like water, we should suspect the work of being simplistic, and as light and as lacking in seriousness as fluff. This is simplistic criticism, of course; it is easy criticism too. “Why is ‘readable’ such a bad thing to be these days?” Some people “are gratified by the struggle to make sense of what they read . . . I am more often gratified by a writer who has accepted the enormous effort necessary to make writing clear.”
Vonnegut criticized lit critics too. They wrote “rococo argle-bargle,” he once said.
Novelists are not only unusually depressed, by and large, but have, on the average, about the same IQs as the cosmetics consultants at Bloomingdale’s department store. our power is patience. We have discovered that writing allows even a stupid person to seem halfway intelligent, if only that person will write the same thought over and over again, improving it just a little bit each time. It is a lot like inflating a blimp with a bicycle pump. Anybody can do it. All it takes is time.
Kurt advised John Irving, who was working on his first novel, “that I was interested in a certain young woman’s underwear to an excess of what my readers would be.” Irving revised it accordingly, but “Not to the degree that I probably should have . . . But he also said I wrote with so much enthusiasm. He told me, Never lose that enthusiasm. So many writers are unenthusiastic about their work.
Such blind spots, to phrase it most benignly, occur in every culture. You may harbor some yourself. Sexism, racism, ageism, nationalism. Homophobia. Political and regional prejudices. Your teachers, being human, will have such blind spots. They may not, as Vonnegut’s own mentor did not, recognize your value, remember you, or care about you. That doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them. It doesn’t mean they themselves are evil. The blind spot itself, though, is. An insidious, damaging wrongdoing, undermining confidence and selfhood. one upside: consciousness soars with obvious abuse. Four pieces of advice: recognize the blind spot. Call it out. Keep your eyes on your own prize. expect change.
People and times do change. raggedly, incrementally. Vonnegut changed too. “The women’s liberation movement of today in America,” Vonnegut wrote in 1981, “in its most oceanic sense, is a wish by women to be liked for something other than their reproductive abilities. . . . And the rejection of the equal rights Amendment by male state legislators is this clear statement by men, in my opinion: ‘We’re sorry, girls, but your reproductive abilities are about all we can really like you for.’”
Throughout his work, Vonnegut conjured and indicated words. [dr. ed Brown] coined a new word for Sylvia’s disease, “Samaritrophia,” which he said meant, “hysterical indifference to the troubles of those less fortunate than oneself.”
There is no shortage of wonderful writers. What we lack is a dependable mass of readers.