Quote of the Day

I came across this quote from Robert Olen Butler in an interview published in Glimmer Train Stories, Winter 2007:

"I stopped writing from my head and began writing from my unconscious. This is the essence of the art form, any art form, actually, and it's the thing I find myself having to teach virtually every student who comes to me, no matter how advanced...
If you go into your unconscious and you don't avert your eyes, and you do that day after day, story after story, book after book, eventually you will break through to a place where you are neither male nor female, neither black, white, red, nor brown, neither Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, nor Jew, neither Vietnamese, American, Albanian, Serbian. You are human. You are human. And if the authenticity comes from that deep place, and if your life experiences are eclectic and broad and intensely observed on the surface levels as well, because that's important, then you can draw that universal human authenticity up through the vessels of characters, who might be, on the surface, quite different from you."

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It's a great interview especially Butler's articulation of the connection between art and the unconscious. I do have one question: how do you work from your unconscious for a long project like a novel? That is what I struggle with, the starting and stopping and trying to reconnect to that "place".


  1. I dunno, Renee.

    But I will say that I drew a lot of inspiration from Butler (and his book about writing) the year I applied to MFA programs. Things were different back then. I wanted *so* badly to be an MFA, to have that identity, to be writing all of the time, reading all the time, reading about writing all the time. I think I wanted the identity more than I wanted the work, because the identity *implied* the work, without actually slogging through the work.

    Now I think about Butler and his advice and I get annoyed. Maybe he's the yoga master of writing, but he also has a goddamn Pulitzer. It's probably easy to do some Pilates on the page when you've got one of those. And maybe he got the Pulitzer by "retreating from his skin" and being all "human," but you know what? Some of us are just not that Zen.

  2. I hear you, Superhero. I agree that what Butler says is a little Zen, spoken from a privileged place, and it's definitely not the craft discussion you hear in MFA programs. But that's why I find it useful. It's an anti-craft message (kind of, he's not totally against craft).

    Butler says that after writing five novels, 12 plays, and 40 short stories, work that he calls "drek," that he stopped over-intellectualizing and started writing from the place where we dream. It does sound mystical, still we've all read fiction that's beautifully crafted but lacking soul. I think that's what he's talking about.

  3. Okay...I relent. ;-p

    It's true what they say about soul, and I remember another writer saying that he learned the most from writers who didn't have the most perfect sentences, but had senteces he could *feel*.

    And rumor has it that writing gets harder *after* you've published and won awards.

    Still...why am I not given the opportunity to find out, with the "drek" of my one, incomplete novel?

    Surely, Renee, we are up to the challenge!