21 April 2001

"A man of genius makes no mistakes.  His
errors are volitional and are the portals of
  - J. Joyce

I read the most interesting thing about journal writing recently. Virginia Woolf was commenting on how Ottoline Morrell kept a journal, but allowed as to how the journal was vastly different from her own, filled up as it was with Ottoline's writing about her inner life. The thought of this made Woolf stop and consider that when she got right down to it, she had no inner life herself. However, Woolf's diaries are filled to bursting with her observations of the world around her -- nothing escaped her keen artist's eye. She never skimped or flinched when laying out the patterns of social engagements, the people around her, or her travels through towns and countries. She treated a walk through Kensignton Gardens as seriously and with quite as much thoughtful attention to detail as she did an enormous dinner party in fancy dress, or a reception with a crowned head of state.

But the only places where we find inner life, if we can call it that, are when we read the stories she wrote. She projected everything she didn't find in herself, but found in others, onto her pages.

I think this is something every writer, every writer who's going to make it as a writer, that is, comes to terms with. There isn't nearly enough good fiction in the world, and part of the reason why is because we've been training our writers to look inward, rather than outward, and rewarding them accordingly. It's as if we have forgotten how to look at our heroes and villains and render them accurately with words. We've forgotten, too, how important it is when we create those characters to exaggerate the lines, extend the reach, endow them with the qualities and characteristics we want to find in ourselves.

Excuse me. I have a sudden desire to peer into a mirror.


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