Thursday, April 28, 2011

Beginnings and Blog Manifestos

Philip Roth is a favorite, so after mentioning him yesterday, I found myself reading a 1983 Roth interview with the Paris Review. In it, he talks about beginning his books.
Beginning a book is unpleasant... Worse than not knowing your subject is not knowing how to treat it, because that’s finally everything. I type out beginnings and they’re awful, more of an unconscious parody of my previous book than the breakaway from it that I want.
The discussion is interesting (and well-worth reading for fiction readers/writers), but I found myself considering Roth's words in the context of blogging. (Is there anything truer to the spirit of blogging than stealing boldly from other media and contorting the bounty until it fits one's selfish ends?)

Blogging often feels closer to "an unconscious" parody of my thoughts than some direct line to inner truth. Sometimes the parodying isn't even unconscious.
I need something driving down the center of a book, a magnet to draw everything to it—that’s what I look for during the first months of writing something new.
A strong summary of the blogger's quest. How many blogs meander in search of a magnet? (My hand is half-raised.)
I’ll go over the first six months of work and underline in red a paragraph, a sentence, sometimes no more than a phrase, that has some life in it...
At least one sentence "that has some life in it" is a goal I set for every blog post. (Surely that's a tagline that will draw in readers.) Early-stage clumsiness in constructing one's blog may be a sign of deficiency, but it may also suggest something more interesting:
You’re looking, as you begin, for what’s going to resist you. You’re looking for trouble. Sometimes in the beginning uncertainty arises not because the writing is difficult, but because it isn’t difficult enough. Fluency can be a sign that nothing is happening; fluency can actually be my signal to stop, while being in the dark from sentence to sentence is what convinces me to go on.
I arrive at my manifesto in fragments. Here I've borrowed another piece.

How many of you had your blogs arrive fully formed? How many, like me, are still just looking for phrases with a bit of life in them?

Philip Roth: Novels 1993-1995: Operation Shylock / Sabbath's Theater (Library of America)Zuckerman Bound: A Trilogy and Epilogue 1979-1985: The Ghost Writer / Zuckerman Unbound / The Anatomy Lesson / The Prague Orgy (Library of America #175)The Paris Review Interviews, Vols. 1-4

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