Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Wuthering Expectations Lifetime Writing Plan

Writing, blog writing, my own writing, is a difficult subject, almost a book blog taboo.  You tread lightly just to say you dislike a book I like; how much more difficult to politely suggest that my argument is trivial and my writing is bad, which it often is.  We cannot all be Anecdotal Evidence or Pykk.

So I continue the slow work of identifying and stripping out the fluff, filler, and gibberish that I see, retrospectively, everywhere in the writing at Wuthering Expectations, while at the same time pursuing ideas to something closer to an end point, rather than abandoning ideas as soon as I identify them.  Blog writing lends itself to – probably should be – loose, but a writer should still be able to follow a thought.

With a mix of planning and luck, last winter I pointed myself in a direction that felt like “forward.”  The key text was Flaubert’s blood-soaked Salammbô, not one of the year’s best books, perhaps even a bad book, but one that was enormously fun to write about.  I loathe the word “read” as a noun, the ill-defined “good read” cliché, but I assume that people who use the term are trying to get at some aspect of the experience of reading a book that is independent of the qualities of the book itself.  If I include writing about Salammbô as part of the experience of reading it, the book was a blast.  A good write.  Oh, ugh, ouch!

Flaubert was surrounded by a cluster of French books – Maupassant’s stories, Hugo’s Les Misérables and William Shakespeare, Gide’s Immoralist, Charles Péguy and Anatole France, culminating in the madness of Alfred Jarry.  A side trip led to A Tale of Two Cities and early British science fiction - H. G. Wells, Richard Jefferies and Samuel Butler.  Most of the books I mentioned are second tier, at best, but  they made satisfyingly impressive noises when smashed together.

However well written these pieces might have been, I had a good time writing them.   Les Misérables was an interesting case.  Because of its bulk, I had worried that it would be difficult to write about coherently, but in fact Hugo’s wealth of stuff made the writing all too easy.  I just planted some flags as I read, picking out especially rich spots to which I could return.  Sewers and barricades; short, punchy sentences; long, twisty sentences.  What more do I need from an author for a week of posts than one great sentence?  Hugo gave me thousands of them.  And then, generous soul that he was, he gave me thousands more not-so-great sentences, and to add to the piquancy of existence, a handful of stinkers.

What more am I trying to do but write one great sentence?  It is like a dang grail quest: perilous, endless, ridiculous.

My title is a parody of the post I wrote this time last year, like this post written just before my vacation.  I’ll be back on January 3, maybe.  Merry Christmas!  Thanks for all of the help this year.


  1. Merry Christmas! And thanks for the food-for-thought. We will read you when you return!

  2. Merry Christmas. That Victor Hugo Shakespeare you alerted me to in the first part of the year was spectacular. He knew as much about Shakespeare as the author of The Pokey Little Puppy knows about the precise genetics of a basset hound but let it never be said that V. Hugo would let a little thing like ignorance of a man's life stop him from writing that man's biography. Away he went on the subject of dung beetles. I was in awe.

  3. Have a very happy Christmas. We are all chasing down those elusive, wonderful sentences, but I think you catch more in your butterfly net than most of us! You always have a really quirky perspective which I admire hugely.

  4. I have Salammbô on my 2012 list. I wonder if it can be weirder than Temptation of Saint Anthony-I have decided to read all the translated de Maupassant stories-sounds like a lot but really seems less than 2000 pages-Les Miserables was my "big read" for 2011-such a rich mind of material as you said. I also read Hunchback and I suggest to those new to Hugo starting there-I am reading A Tale Of Two Cities now-incredibly well done opening chapter-I will do another post on older Brazilian short stories in January-hope you have a very good time off and look forward to be edified by your posts

  5. for what it's worth, I've been reading your blog for two years now, and I like the 'breeziness' of the entries. What keeps me reading, besides the originality of the arguments and the tongue in cheekiness is the fact that nothing gets pinpointed to death. (I'm not a big fan of literature being squeezed to death just to get the last drop of meaning.) So I hope this intention goes the way of all New year's resolutions. Cheers!

  6. Your blog is a sort of finishing line to me: when I reach that finishing line, my English will be good. It means that meanwhile I don't understand everything you write but I persist in my effort. Sounds I'm in a marathon...:-)

    Bonnes vacances et à l'année prochaine


  7. "What more am I trying to do but write one great sentence?" puts me in mind of Hemingway, my current love, who said that his goal at the end of the day was to write just one, true, honest sentence. It seems to me that you write many of them.

    On another note, I've signed up for a course on Michel de Montaigne this summer...up in Toronto with a program called Classical Pursuits. Have you read much of him? Do I need to be as overwhelmed as I feel upon receiving his book of Complete Essays from Everyman's Library yesterday?

  8. I hace stumbled across a computer; how pleasant to find these kind thoughts awaiting me.

    A few notes:

    On Hugo: yes yes yes. More more. Hugo demands a Hugolian appetite. Maybe I will finally get to the octupus battle in Toilers of the Sea in the new year.

    mel: Episode for episode, Saint Anthony is weirder than Salammbô. The overall effect, though - well, you'll see for yourself.

    Emma: I sometimes feel like I will have accomplished something if I ever understand everything I write! Looking back, I see, for example, some wild leaps in certain arguments, gaps that should have been filled in a little. How could anyone have understood what I meant?

    But, following litlove and my heart-warming anonymous reader, the quirkiness and breeziness are necessary, too. How to make a well-argued claim with a light touch, or when to gesture at an argument without needing to follow it - these are the challenges with this kind of writing.

    Bellezza - it's a big book, ain't it? Montaigne, though, and his book of essays, is an ideal candidate for reading as strolling. No need for marathoning or mountain climbing. Reading M. can be like going for a walk with an amusing, thoughtful, ironic friend. The class should be great fun.

  9. The octopus battle is a highlight. "This sucking apparatus has all the regularity and delicacy of a keyboard."

  10. Maybe you've found it and don't know it! As a writer, I think "a dang grail quest" might be the winning sentence you want. It's pretty winning!

  11. Ah, yes, that's Hugo. And people don't read him because they think he's old-fashioned!

    Shelley, that is flattering. "you've found it and you don't know it" is a good description of the kind of writer I am.