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March 14, 2016: Speaking for One’s Writing/Letting Writing Speak for Itself

For many years, I practiced either/or thinking in relation to the above title and erred on the side of letting writing speak for itself. I believed that if the writing was good, the writer didn’t need to point out its strengths to readers because these strengths would be self-evident. At the same time, I saw those who were doing the speaking as being egotistical wind bags. There may be some truth to my thinking, but I’m now seeing this as an and/also situation. In corresponding with my friend Pam Nolfe, I got to thinking that both speaking for one’s writing and letting the writing speak for itself are both equally important.

Pam and my discussion about Lauren Slater’s book Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir broadened my previously overly narrow viewpoint. Slater, in writing this book, pushed tremendously hard on the fiction/creative nonfiction boundaries. She writes about having epilepsy – but as it turns out, she did not. Several of the characters, including the doctor who recommends this book to others, are unreliable characters.

I didn’t know any of this the first time I read this book. The second time I did, and it was with a smile on my face. I in fact inwardly applauded Slater for taking on the fiction/nonfiction argument in such a bold and innovative manner. I was in fact envious – I wished that I’d written this book. Lauren even went so far as to use the fact that epileptics are considered to be liars to her advantage, thus lending credibility to her not-so-creditable narrative stance.

This book didn’t get its due – it was best seller then faded into obscurity. I mentioned to Pam that there was good reason for this – and this reason was that this book could not speak for itself because it was so quirky – but sad to say, so was its spokesperson. I (for example) had a really hard time getting an interview with her for the Fourth Genre magazine. And I was never able to run my finished question/answer interview past her because she didn’t respond to emails. Others said the same, and Rebecca Mead, in a New Yorker article, called Slater “flippant.” Slater never gave anyone straight answers about anything, and finally, interviewers just gave up on her.

Had Slater been more forthright, she would have assisted her book in advancing the claim that creative nonfiction writing is a Fourth Genre – that is one in which fictive literary devices are used to get at certain truths. This book’s representative failings alerted me to the fact that writers do need to speak up for their work. It is true that some individuals talk at length about work that is not all that great. Such individuals are bullshit artists.

I feared that some would say the same of me, and so for the longest time I did not speak for my work. I’m now thinking differently – it’s important to be well informed about the genre you’re working in, and have some knowledge of the key players, because this then advances the related scholarly argument.

Speaking for one’s own work requires considerable tact and humility, as well as some knowledge of the craft. It takes many years to get there. So back to writing the word “Writer” on the physician’s medical form. And also back to considering the importance of the self- and product-marketing.

Next: 73.3/15/16: Please Put More Peas on my Plate

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