I have been focused on writing itself —trying to write to a certain standard (and then raising the bar) for so long that I have mostly neglected to stand back and think enough about the meaning of writing itself. What gives its its astonishing power and enduring appeal? Why is it such an extraordinarily exciting, satisfying, and pleasurable activity? What is the secret of its magic (as if such a secret could ever be revealed!)?
Blogging has encouraged me to stand back and ponder the meaning of writing. Fortunately, I don’t have to depend on my own insights alone—though I would like to think I have a few. But I am both awed and delighted at the quality of the writing about writing that already exists.
The following extract is from a piece by Joe Fassler which appears in theatlantic.com of October 8 2014. It’s well worth reading in full.
To me as a reader, this greatest thing about the novel—I start sentences this way all time, but I always say a different thing—is that it gives access to the mind of the writer. Our Mutual Friend is a perfect example of this: You have access to the mind of this guy, Charles Dickens. Prolonged access, 880 pages of access. There is no intermediary between you and this guy’s mind. There are no actors, there’s no stage production. To read a book is an act of humanity. It’s an act of connection. And it’s also an act of freedom—at any point, I could say, I’m done with Our Mutual Friend, I’m moving on to Anthony Trollope. As long as you’re reading, you’re there voluntarily. To me, that’s the essence of the novel: accessing the mind of another human being in a way that combines freedom with intimacy. This is a rare thing. You don’t get it through an interview, you don’t get that through relationships—other people can always withhold information from you. You don’t get this kind of access in any other art—poetry, maybe, but the contact isn’t as prolonged. I find it perennially alluring. I’ve been at this for years and years and yet, and yet this voluntary act of connection still fascinates me in my reading and my writing.